Progressive Discipline Policy

A progressive discipline policy outlines an employer's process for taking increasingly stricter corrective actions with employees who have behavioral problems, job performance issues, or don't follow company procedures and policies. The goal of a progressive discipline policy is to give employees a chance to correct their issues and guide them through the process.

How a Progressive Discipline Policy Works

The process of a progressive discipline policy follows these four steps:

  1. Verbal warning or counseling
  2. Written warning or reprimand
  3. Specific warning of dismissal
  4. Termination

Employers often include a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) as part of a progressive discipline policy, and they require employees to complete the PIP successfully.

When employees do not correct their behavior or performance issues in a reasonable amount of time after a verbal warning, the employer moves on to a stricter action with a written warning, and so forth.

Progressive discipline policies protect the legal rights of the employee and employer and provide a consistent and fair process for disciplining employees.

Verbal Reprimand

  • An employer should give an employee a verbal reprimand as soon as a behavioral or performance problem is noticed.
  • If the employee has any skill deficiencies or other correctible issues, the employer should make note of the issue and offer assistance.
  • The verbal warning should be given in private, and detailed notes about the conversation should be kept in case further discipline is needed.
  • If the reprimand is about a company policy that the employee violated, the employer should give the employee a copy of the policy.

Written Warning

  • The employer should give the employee a written warning detailing the behavioral or performance problem issue if the verbal reprimand does not solve the problem.
  • The written warning should explain the issue and give a specific time frame for the employee to correct the behavior; it should also notify the employee that failure to improve will result in termination.
  • The employer should have the employee sign a copy of the written warning so he or she can't claim it was never received.
  • A copy of the written warning should be kept in the employee's personnel file.

Specific Warning of Dismissal

  • The employer should give the employee a final written warning if the first written warning does not solve the problem.
  • A copy of the previous written warning should be included with the final written warning
  • The final written warning should re-explain the issue and give a specific time frame for the employee to correct the behavior.
  • The final written warning should notify the employee that failure to improve will result in the initiation of the termination process.

Termination

  • The employer should prepare and deliver a letter of termination that states the reason for termination in clear and specific writing.
  • A copy of all previous written warnings should be included with the termination letter.

Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a formal document used by the employer which includes information about the behavioral or performance problem that needs to be addressed, and it includes specific dates when the employer will meet with the employee to review progress.

PIPs are commonly outlined for 30, 60, or 90-day periods.

The employer should meet with the employee privately to discuss the PIP, and the employee should sign the PIP to indicate that he or she read and understands it.

The employee can be terminated if any serious incident occurs during the PIP period.

The employee can be subject to disciplinary action in the future if the same or different behavioral or performance problems occur after he or she has successfully completed a PIP.

Benefits of Having a Progressive Discipline Policy

There are many benefits of having a progressive discipline policy. Some of the benefits include the following:

  • They provide legal documentation of an employer's hiring, firing, and promotion procedures.
  • They lay out an employer's expectations for an employee's steps to correct problems.
  • They can help employees feel confident that they won't be fired for any small mistakes they might make.
  • They can give an employer insight into areas in which certain employees might need help.
  • They can assure an employer that they terminate an employee properly.

More Information About Progressive Discipline Policies

If you would like more information on any of the aspects of a progressive discipline policy, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.