Do your supervisors consistently follow and document progressive discipline with employees? Though supervisors often detest the progressive discipline process, consistently following and documenting your progressive discipline policy can save your organization time and money in the long run. By creating a progressive discipline policy, employers create an expectation that employees will receive notice of a problem and the opportunity to correct the problem.
Progressive discipline is an employee disciplinary system that provides a graduated range of responses to employee performance or conduct problems. Disciplinary measures range from mild to severe, depending on the nature and frequency of the problem.
Progressive discipline is primarily used to:
Applying your policies inconsistently can lead to turnover and adversely impact the team and morale. If an employer does not take its own policy seriously, why should employees? Worse yet, inconsistency can lead to a variety of employment claims including discrimination. Once embroiled in litigation, a supervisor’s failure to properly document the discipline process in writing will make it more difficult for the employer to defend the lawsuit.
An employer's documentation of a discipline, or the lack thereof, plays an important role in every employment lawsuit. Though many employers and supervisors believe that their stories will be given deference in court, that's simply not the case. Documentation is needed to corroborate the employer’s version of events, particularly since the memories of witnesses fade and key witnesses may not be as cooperative down the road.
An effective progressive discipline policy expresses a commitment to ensuring fair treatment of all employees and in making certain that disciplinary actions are prompt, uniform and impartial. Such policies are typically comprised of the following steps, which are administered in a graduated fashion:
When discipline is necessary, employers should first determine whether the policy at issue prescribes the required course of action. For example, many employers have attendance policies that set forth specific, progressive discipline steps based upon a points or occurrence system. In this system, a certain number of points or occurrences results in a verbal warning, then a written warning after the next level is reached, and so forth. If the policy at issue does not specifically prescribe a disciplinary process, employers should evaluate their past practice based on the same or similar incidents to determine the best course of action.
Employers should avoid policies that are overly rigid – like a policy that promises progressive discipline regardless of the circumstances. As a best practice, the policy should be drafted in a manner that gives an employer the flexibility to bypass one or more steps depending upon the frequency and severity of the problem.
Employers should educate supervisors on the importance of documenting progressive discipline, including informal discipline such as coaching sessions and verbal warnings. This documentation should be maintained in a supervisor’s log or file, separate from the personnel file.
Supervisor training should also include:
Properly disciplining and terminating employees are among the most important personnel functions an employer can perform. Indeed, most employment claims arise following termination or another form of adverse employment action. At the same time, failing to discipline or terminate when necessary can adversely impact your workforce and business. Therefore, it’s essential for employers to understand legal risks and best practices associated with disciplining and terminating employees.
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Everyone knows that discipline and termination are fundamental parts of the employment process, and that if they aren’t handled properly, employers are likely to lose any unemployment claims, EEOC charges and lawsuits that might result. So why is discipline so often handled poorly or avoided altogether?
Consistency is critical to effectively manage a team, as it enables employees to know what to expect which, in turn, helps them to self-regulate their behavior. Just as importantly, it creates a perception of fairness, since everyone is treated similarly. This sense of fairness reduces the likelihood of an employee pursuing a lawsuit, as well as the likelihood of such a claim being successful if it is pursued.
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