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eqHR Business Tips: Progressive Discipline – Why is it Important to be Flexible?

Posted on November 30, 2015

Most companies practice a progressive discipline policy. Progressive discipline specifies a range of responses to employee performance or conduct problems. The disciplinary actions range from minor to serious, depending on the nature and frequency of the issue.

Steps of Progressive Discipline:

  1. Verbal Counseling
  2. Written Counseling
  3. Administrative Leave
  4. Final Written Counseling
  5. Termination

Progressive discipline helps employees get back on track. Done correctly, progressive discipline:

  • Intervenes and corrects employee behavior early on
  • Enhances communication between managers and employees
  • Ensures consistency and fairness in dealing with employee issues, and
  • Establishes grounds for fair, legally defensible employment terminations when employees cannot or will not improve.

Flexibility is the KeyMany times I will advise employers not to include a progressive discipline policy in their Employee Handbooks. When it comes to discipline, every situation is different and it is important not to lock yourself in to a single response to a given situation.For example, let’s say you are dealing with is an employee with an attendance problem. The Progressive Discipline steps listed above are a fair and consistent way address and correct the attendance issue.

However, if the issue is more severe, such as theft or a serious performance problem, you want the freedom to be able to skip steps, perhaps going straight to Written Counseling or Final Written Counseling, or in an egregious situation, directly to termination. In those circumstances the last thing you want is an employee filing a claim against your company because you did not follow the exact discipline steps laid out in your handbook.
Another good example of the importance of flexibility in your progressive discipline practices is step 3: Administrative Leave. You most likely will skip this step in most cases, however it should be utilized in situations when there is a reason the employee needs to be removed from the work environment such as: harassment investigations, suspicion of theft, potential threat of violence or other disruption, or if they can’t perform their duties until an investigation is complete.

Progressive Discipline is an important tool for employers when they need to discipline their employees. It allows for due process and documents fair and consistent treatment of employees. It is important to remember, however, that all situations are different and employers must allow themselves some room to ensure that the punishment does indeed fit the crime.

Call us today if you need to assitance or require guidance for your employment policies / procedures.

This article was written by Lauren Sims, an eqHR Solutions Principal Consultant and may be contacted by calling eqHR Solutions.