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Using Progressive Discipline for Maximum Impact

Attendance problems. Poor job performance. Safety violations. Abuse or theft of company property.

If you’ve got problems like these at your workplace, you’re not alone. But more important than knowing that you have them is knowing what to do about them. And, having your supervisors know, as they’re the ones who deal with them daily.

When behavior problems are ignored, morale and productivity problems can grow as other workers look on and lose respect for management’s leadership.Discipline

On the other hand, if you act abruptly and simply fire the offending employee, you could be acting in an unjustified or even illegal manner, resulting in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) problems and wrongful termination suits. Is there a better way?

Yes, it’s called progressive discipline – the multi-step system of making “the punishment fit the crime,” starting with light warnings for first offenders, progressing to termination for repeated or serious violations, but giving opportunities for reform and redemption all along the way.

Business owners and Supervisors aren’t born knowing how to do this. We all need to be trained in the proper HR practices. Here are some key understandings to acquire:

Reasons for Progressive Discipline: The progressive discipline process not only treats people in a manner appropriate to their behavior, and shows other employees you are both fair and consistent, but also actually creates opportunities.

Think of it as parallel tracks with any employee that is having issues. One track is trying to create the best employee possible while the other is setting up a legal and justified termination. Both can be done at the same time and it’s a win-win for you and your employees.

How to Implement Progressive Discipline: The usual steps are first verbal and then written warnings, followed, if necessary, by suspension without pay and finally termination. These are not hard a fast rules, as the level of discipline is commensurate with the severity of the problem, but it should be a foundational process that can be adjusted when necessary. Supervisors need to learn to properly use these steps, including skillfully conducting meetings and building corrective action plans along the way.

Most important, they need to learn to focus on the behavior and not on the individual and to emphasize and correct, not punish. They also should know at which steps HR approval must be sought and when other management personnel should be involved.

The Need for Documentation: Each step needs to be surrounded by paperwork that shows your company has 1) allowed the workers involved to tell their stories; 2) investigated fully what happened; and 3) taken any action on a fair and consistent basis. Anything less exposes you to expensive, protracted legal challenge.

When to Call a Professional: When employees behavior involves pregnancy, substance abuse, physical disabilities, or if race/gender/religious issues are potentially involved, you should immediately seek professional guidance. There are tremendous pitfalls associated with discipline and termination.

Champion is always available should you need help. Contact us at (800) 513-2153 or

  • 17 Jun, 2014
  • Tom Elias

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