In everyone’s life, at one point or another, there comes a time when we have to be told that we are incorrect, or that we are heading in the wrong direction and be told or shown the correct route. This is the purpose of progressive discipline in the workplace.
Progressive discipline at work provides a fair and equal framework for dealing with an employee who has either done something wrong, or has made a mistake that needs to be corrected. It not only informs the employee of their error but gives them a forum for feedback and, if done correctly, directions or instructions on what is expected of them in the future. This is what we all want, isn’t it?
Too often I’ve had managers approach me with the intent of getting rid of the problem employee at the first sign of trouble; they haven’t even considered the costs associated with terminating someone or the fact that this employee may correct their behaviour, if given the chance, and prove to be valuable to the organization.
Employers should have a clear policy that details the process for progressive discipline so that both management and workers are fully aware of what is involved.
Discipline, as with corrective, or punitive, action in any setting, should always be timely– you can’t sit on something for a week and then take action; this isn’t helpful to either party (unless the event requires an investigation, in which case the employee must have been informed that this is underway and the possibility of a paid enforced absence may be considered if the circumstances warrant it) and may even prejudice the eventual outcome.
Once the need for progressive discipline arises, the first step should always be to advise the employee of their shortcoming – make them aware of, or reaffirm the expectations in the workplace.
After that discussion has occurred and there has been no improvement in behaviour, the next step would be a verbal warning. There must always be documentation of this verbal warning, including the employee’s acknowledgement that it has occurred.
After the verbal warning and the situation has not improved, there must be a written warning. Each of these steps must include a conversation with the employee.
Following the written warning, with no evident change in causal circumstance an unpaid suspension is warranted..
From the very beginning of this progressive process the employee, and the union if there is one, must be advised of the seriousness of the situation and that failure to improve and meet the standards required of the workplace will result in increasingly severe penalties, up to, and including discharge.
It should also be noted that these steps are not written in stone – there may be situations where you jump to the third step and skip the second – it depends on the situation, history and facts of the case.
Always consult an expert if you are unsure as there can be legal liability when disciplining and/or terminating employees. Consultants at Pesce & Associates would be more than happy to assist or guide through the progressive discipline process.