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Progressive Discipline Policies: Thoughts for the Workplace

Progressive discipline is the series of steps a supervisor or human resources representative uses to document and coach an employee who is not performing to the company’s set standards. These policies are generally used as a way to clearly communicate an issue with the employee and create a plan of actionthat helps the employee improve their overall work performance.

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Where to start with progressive discipline for team members

Before an employee’s unsatisfactory behavior or performance is documented, the supervising team should come together and share information and perspectives about how to address the situation. Follow these steps to begin developing a progressive discipline policy:

  1. Notify appropriate team members and human resources
  2. Communicate the problem clearly
  3. Meet with the employee to address the issue
  4. Form a specific plan of action
  5. Follow up

1. Notify appropriate team members and human resources

Have the employee’s manager or immediate supervisor arrange a meeting with a human resources representative to discuss the problem and verify that it directly conflicts with company policy. The problem should also be well-documented. Something simple like consistent tardiness is easily definable, while behavioral issues or complaints from other employees that haven’t been verified by management can be a little more complicated. This is also the time to decide if the concern is something that should be addressed with progressive discipline.

2. Communicate the problem clearly

Beclear and concise when you explain what the problem is. Define the specific issue without using generalizations or vague phrases. In cases where an employee has an attitude problem, for example, it’s important to define the exact behavior and share situations in which this clearly affects their coworkers and their overall work environment. If the employee is late for work often, the manager needs to document the dates and times of each incident.

3. Meet with the employee to address the issue

Have the employee’s direct supervisor and a member of human resources set a private meeting with the employee to address their issues at work. This meeting should focus on the problem and give the employee an opportunity to share their perspective. In some cases, there may be unknown influences that are keeping the employee from performing their best at work. Once these are revealed, work with the employee to help provide solutions to these influences, especially if they’re directly related to the workplace.

This meeting should also serve as a warning to the employee that they are responsible for resolving the problem that led to disciplinary action. This may also be a good opportunity to give the employee a timeline in which they need to resolve their problems. If they don’t meet this timeline, further disciplinary action may be needed.

4. Form a specific plan of action

Forming a plan of action to help the employee improve their work performance should be the main goal of progressive discipline. A plan of action addresses the initial concern while seeking solutions that mentor the employee and encourage them to perform better at work.The plan of action also serves to engage the employee with their leadership team rather than simply reprimand them for their actions.

The plan of action generally consists of defining the issue and documenting the steps that the employee will need to take to meet their new goals at work. Sometimes, the management defines the steps the employee needs to take, and sometimes the employee contributes ideas about how they can perform better or deal with issues outside of the workplace that could be affecting their performance. The final plan should be a combined effort that takes into account both management’s and the employee’s thoughts concerning their work performance.

5. Follow up

Schedule a follow-up meeting with the employee a few weeks later so you can review their progress toward the goals you’ve set for them. If they haven’t improved their performance within the set timeline, it may be necessary to take further action.

Related: Performance Improvement Plan

Best practices for progressive discipline

Progressive discipline follows a gradual elevation of documentation and coaching that can lead to suspension or termination. They are as follows:

  • Verbal warning: A formal meeting that is documented addressing the issue
  • Written warning: A second meeting that is held if the employee has not adjusted their actions
  • Suspension: A third-tier escalation resulting in the employee being suspended without pay for a certain amount of time
  • Termination: the final escalation resulting in termination of employment

After the first meeting, you should have a strong understanding of whether the employee simply needs more encouragement and support or may need close monitoring to ensure they’re taking their job responsibilities seriously. All disciplinary procedures must be documented, and the employee must be informed as soon as possible if any further escalation needs to be taken.

Progressive disciplinary policies serve to protect the company in cases where the employee refuses to change a behavior or action. They also protect the employee by making sure they are aware of situations in which their supervisors wish for them to improve, giving them a fair chance to perform better at work.

Progressive discipline FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions that can help you better understand progressive discipline policies:

Is progressive discipline an effective practice for the workplace?

When used fairly and consistently for all employees, progressive discipline can be very effective to help revise performance issues. It is a valuable way to communicate expectations and co-create solutions with an employee. These meetings provide clarity about what is expected from employees, and they give you the opportunity to offer support for them as they correct their performance issues.

When is it appropriate to skip progressive discipline?

When an infraction or incident are severe enough, it may be more appropriate to skip progressive discipline and go straight to suspension or termination. Insubordination, falsifying records or dishonesty are some examples of actions that would warrant an immediate termination. Your company should make a clear list of such actions in the employee handbook.

How can you explain progressive discipline to employees?

Explaining to employees that progressive discipline is the way your company deals with a failure to meet performance standards is important. This helps ensurethat they will have the chance to address any issues that need to be corrected. The best time to explain your progressive discipline policy is when you are first onboarding and training a new employee. It’s also helpful to outline the process in your employee handbook.

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