Why Your Company Needs a Progressive Discipline Policy
It can happen to even the best leaders: An employee (or employees) fails to follow company policies. Perhaps they are chronically late, take too many breaks during the day, or spend too much time updating their Facebook statuses and not checking on client status. Whatever the offense, the outcome is that productivity is down, and the employees that are following the rules are starting to get frustrated.
Many leaders overlook occasional minor offenses. After all, who isn’t late for work every once in a while? However, when employees habitually break the rules, it’s important to take action, since many people cite inconsistent enforcement of the rules as a reason for leaving their jobs. The problem, though, is that if you don’t take the right action, you could be setting yourself up for a disgruntled employee, or even worse, a lawsuit brought by an employee who feels he or she was unfairly disciplined or terminated.
Covering your bases when addressing rule infractions is the primary motivation for a progressive discipline policy. A progressive discipline policy addresses employee behavior with an increasingly punitive series of sanctions, ranging from warnings up to termination. A clearly outlined set of responses to rule infractions not only ensures consistency when it comes to discipline, it also provides guidelines for leaders who may be uncomfortable or unprepared to reprimand their colleagues.
What Goes Into a Progressive Discipline Policy
The most important part of a progressive discipline policy is a written policy regarding behavioral expectations. In other words, you must tell your employees what is and isn’t allowed. Some points might seem like common sense, like showing up to work on time, but if you do not clearly articulate your expectations and what constitutes a violation, an employee could potentially claim discrimination when disciplined for a violation.
Therefore, the first step to a progressive discipline policy is to outline the punishable offenses. Keep in mind that you don’t want to be overly legalistic, but you want to create a comprehensive list of offenses that could lead to progressive discipline. These might include chronic tardiness or absences, failure to meet deadlines, failure to meet quality standards, inappropriate use of company Internet or phones, failure to meet job requirements, arguing with co-workers, taking too many breaks, taking extended breaks, insubordination, and harassment.
Keep in mind that in some states, enacting a progressive discipline policy could be viewed as a requirement to use it; in other words, employees may “test the limits,” expecting that they will only face verbal warnings, even though they have committed a fireable offense. Therefore, you must carefully consider the behaviors that will be covered by the progressive discipline policy, and outline the offenses that are exempt from that policy and could lead to immediate termination.
Progressive discipline is exactly what it sounds like: The punishment progressively gets more severe as infractions continue.
In most cases, progressive discipline includes four levels.
- Verbal Warnings. Step one is letting your employee know that there is a problem, and that they need to correct their behavior or risk additional punishment. For example, if an employee arrives late four out of five days, have a conversation to let the employee know that you have noticed, and try to get to the root of the problem. It could be that he or she has to put their children on the school bus, and the bus consistently arrives late. In that case, you might be able to adjust that employee’s schedule, or at least give him or her a few minutes leeway.
- Written Warnings. In general, if the verbal warnings don’t change the behavior, a written warning is the next step in a progressive discipline plan. In this case, the supervisor will meet with the employee to discuss the behavior and desired course of corrective action, but also provide a written statement covering the issue. This statement should be signed by the employee and kept in his or her employee file. In some cases, supervisors will opt to make more than one written warning before moving on the next step.
- Performance Improvement Plan. If behavior doesn’t improve after the written warning, the third step is generally a performance improvement plan. In some cases, this also includes a suspension from work. The PIP outlines the issue and the corrective action taken thus far, and presents a plan for corrective action, which could include increased supervision, more training, fewer privileges, or any combination thereof. Most PIPs cover a 30-, 60-, or 90-day period and allow for additional actions should the behaviors recur or other problems arise.
- Termination. The final step in a progressive discipline plan. If the employee has failed to comply with the terms of the previous steps, then termination may be the only option.
Again, not all offenses can be handled appropriately with a progressive approach to discipline, and some — such as violence or theft — may warrant immediate termination. However, by maintaining a progressive discipline policy, you can handle discipline problems fairly and consistently, and keep your employees happy in the process.