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Progressive Discipline


Progressive Discipline

There will be times when an employee violates a policy or standard of conduct that will require immediate termination. However, in most cases, the problems aren't that serious, or at least they don't start out that way.

In many situations, a minor sanction or coaching can be the answer.

But what about the employee who continues to break rules or ignore work policies or continues to have performance problems? While your immediate impulse may be to terminate the employee, there is an alternative that allows you and the employee every chance to salvage the employment relationship before you resort to termination. That alternative is known as progressive discipline.

Progressive discipline is a discipline system where the severity of the penalty increases each time an employee breaks the rules. Typically the progression is from oral warnings to written warnings to suspension and, finally, to termination.

There are advantages to using progressive discipline, especially when it's used in conjunction with a set of work rules (that are thoroughly communicated to employees) and an explanation of the disciplinary system.

For very small businesses, progressive discipline may be too time consuming to use, especially if discipline are problems rare. Or, you may decide to use it only for the most common rule infractions, such as unexcused absences or tardiness. Before you adopt a progressive discipline system, there are certain things that you need to understand, including:

*how progressive discipline works

*the advantages of progressive discipline

*the disadvantages of progressive discipline

*how to develop a progressive discipline policy


How Progressive Discipline Works

In a progressive discipline system, the severity of the penalty increases with each infringement of the rules. Among the advantages of a progressive discipline system is the fact that you can work with the employee to try to retain him or her as a productive worker without having to resort to termination immediately. Typically, the progression is:

oral warnings

written warnings



A progressive discipline system contains the following elements:

Both you and the employee know in advance, to the extent possible, the appropriate discipline for the violation of a specific work rule.

The degree of discipline is greater for repeated offenses in a given time frame.

All violations are treated the same unless there are unusual mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Usually, after a specified time period (like six months or a year) passes without another infraction, the worker gets a "clean slate." Any later infractions will start the process again with an oral warning.

Some cases of misconduct are so severe that you may skip the first one, two, or even three steps. For example, assaults or fighting, stealing, intoxication on the job, gross insubordination, destruction of company property, etc., may all justify immediate action. But don't fire the worker on the spot! Firing someone is a serious action, not to be done off the cuff. Sometimes situations are not as they appear. Give yourself some time to investigate, and, at a minimum, to be sure of what really happened and who was responsible.

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