What is Progressive Discipline?

Behavioral problems and poor performance can be detrimental to the bottom line; many employers want to terminate problematic employees as soon as possible.  Small businesses may not feel that they have the time or money to work on correcting bad behavior or improving poor performance.  Immediate termination often feels like the easier path, especially if it is relatively painless to find a replacement.  But, despite the ease of immediate termination, we generally recommend that employers first use progressive discipline.

As its name indicates, progressive discipline involves a progression of disciplinary actions with escalating consequences.  When used to give employees with behavioral or performance problems time and opportunity to improve, it demonstrates good faith and builds your employer brand.  If the process results in termination, you can show the termination was for cause.  Without a record of trying to correct the behavior or performance, it is very easy for the terminated employee, a lawyer, or a jury to fill in the blanks with their own explanation for the termination.

The Steps of Progressive Discipline

Progressive discipline generally begins with a conversation to identify and address the behavioral or performance issue.  Often this conversation is part of regular coaching or check-in with the employee, and some HR professionals view this conversation as a step before actual progressive discipline begins.  You make the employee aware of their unsatisfactory behavior or performance, make your expectations clear, give them any guidance or tools available to help them succeed, and allow them to bring their concerns to your attention.

If the employee fails to improve after coaching, the next step is generally to give them a verbal warning and let them know additional discipline may follow if they don’t improve.

The next escalation is usually a written warning that the employee signs. If the problem is performance-related rather than behavioral, a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) might be appropriate at this stage.  A PIP is a formalized action plan for employee improvement. It typically lasts at least 60 days, has commitments from both the employee and management and contains realistic, attainable goals.  Whether you give a simple written warning or implement a PIP, you should be perfectly clear as to what will happen if the employee fails to improve or modify their behavior.

If the problem isn’t resolved after a written warning or PIP, stay true to your word and proceed to the next step, whether that is another written warning, a final written warning, suspension, or termination.

This post is provided by the HR Pros at the HR Support Center.  When you need essential information on human resources issues, from benefits, hiring and management, to culture, technology and regulations, HR Support Center is a resource on which you can rely.