Progressive discipline is a process of retaining employees though a series of corrective actions and coaching. As a Human Resources consultant, I am frequently faced with situations where employees need a little bit of coaching. From occasional tardiness to dress code violations to sexual harassment, the Human Resources department is faced with many situations that must result in some level of disciplinary action. However, there is a big difference between punishing an employee for unacceptable behavior and constructively redirecting them. Whenever possible, employers should focus their efforts on coaching and redirection rather than on punishment. The following is a process and some tips that I recommend to my clients when disciplinary action must be taken.
The verbal warning is an informal first step. When conducting the verbal warning one should be friendly yet firm. You should try to gain input about what is causing the problem. Frequently you will find that the employee was not aware that there was a cause for concern. Perhaps the employee was not aware of the company policy or there is some temporary situation that is to blame. Whatever the case may be, try to remain objective and give the employee the benefit of the doubt. Additionally, whenever possible one should attempt to offer some solutions to help correct the behavior.
A written warning is less friendly and more firm than a verbal warning. At this time the employee has been informed of their unacceptable behavior, yet has not corrected it. Thus, a written warning has three parts.
– A reminder of past — Remind the employee of the previous conversation and probe to find out why it has not been resolved.
– A discussion about the present — Address the most recent infraction and get a commitment to improve.
– A discussion about the future — Inform the employee of your expectations and let them know the consequences associated with future occurrences.
– When a final warning is issued, the key is to let the employee know that this is the last straw and another occurrence will result in termination of employment. At this point the employee has been informed of a problem, committed to correcting the problem, yet failed to follow through with their commitment. Many employers will go a step further and tack on a suspension without pay to their final warnings. However you chose to proceed, the goal is to let the employee know that now you mean business, and that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated again.
– If there is only one piece of advice I could give to a person just starting out in Human Resources it would be, “if it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen”. If you are ever required to go to court due to a sensitive termination, documentation will be your best friend.
– Documentation should be signed by both parties, dated, and stored in the employee’s personnel file.
If an employee refuses to sign a documented warning, the employee should be reminded that the signature is not an admission of guilt. The employee’s signature simply acknowledges that a conversation took place.
– If the employee still refuses to sign a documented warning, just place the warning in the employee file without a signature and document that the employee refused to sign it. As a side note, employees should always be provided with a comments section on the write up form. This is their opportunity to present their side of the story.
Remain consistent will all warnings
– It is very important to remember, what you do for one, you do for all. This will help you avoid discrimination suits.
– When you have decided to terminate an employee, always remember that this decision is not up for negotiation. The time for negotiation has come and gone.
– If at all possible, have the employee’s final paycheck ready at the time of termination.
By following these steps and tips, Human Resources consultants have assisted many employers with effectively coaching employees and avoiding potential lawsuits. It is important to coach employees though issues in order to maintain a cohesive work environment, and to maintain a cohesive work environment throughout disciplinary and termination procedures.
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