Progressive Discipline... Means just that Progressive

If you don't believe in progressive discipline then I'm guessing you like spending a lot or your time in front of an administrative law judge trying to explain why an employee was terminated?

Using progressive discipline properly should help eliminate that possibility. Make sure you include your policy in your employee handbook.

I say should because - if someone is determined to challenge your decision - then there is nothing you can do about it.

But - know that you will be ready if you use progressive discipline as a tool - and not a big stick.

Many supervisors - hope your not one - that like spending time in front of administrative law judges - only use progressive discipline once they are fed up with their employees behavior. In other words they have termination in their sights before they ever issue the first disciplinary action.

Instead you should be using the progressive discipline process to change the behavior before you get to the - I am completely fed up with this employee stage.

If your mind set is in this mode - you most likely will rush through all the stages of progressive discipline in record time.

So here is how it will look to someone outside of your business…

You Will Have Plenty of Time When You Are Unemployed...

You have an employee who has been with you for - lets say 3 years. Until you started the progressive disciplinary process they have nothing in their personnel file indicating a problem with behavior or performance. After all you have not had the time available to deal with it until now. By the way you will have plenty of time in the near future when you are unemployed because of not dealing with the problem correctly.

The employees behavior has steadily gotten worse - let’s say - it is a combination of things. Their register is short or over 2 or 3 times per week - they don’t wear a clean uniform at least two times per week - they are almost always late by 5 or 10 minutes each day - they are rude to customers - you get the point.

Then you say to yourself - enough is enough - I am going to do something about this now - I am fed up!! Keep in mind you have done nothing up to this point.

So on Monday morning you see that they are late again and you decide you are fed up and going to take disciplinary action. Before you can take the first step of progressive discipline - verbal warning - which by the way is not really verbal at all - it is in written format - you do their register and Wala - it is short also. So now you decide to not issue the verbal warning - but the first written warning also. You go ahead and schedule a meeting with them the next morning. The next morning they are late again and they are wearing a dirty uniform - so you include their second and third written warnings along with the verbal and first written warnings. Since your progressive discipline process states that an employee only gets one verbal warning and three written warnings and is subject to termination on the third written warning - you let them go at that first meeting.

Bad decision - matter of fact - very bad decision.

Although I know that this example was a little extreme - you would be amazed at how many times it happens. I have had to stop managers from doing this on numerous occasions.

Now you may be correct in the fact that the employee did violate your policies - but - and it is a big but - you did not act in good faith. Second - it will not take long for any outside party reviewing this to see that by your previous inaction you may have established a new standard.

Zero To Termination in a Short Period of Time... Bad Plan

To correct the behavior that has been going on for some time you must reestablish the standard through training - employee meetings - or through your progress disciplinary process if they are the only one violating the policy provided you don’t go from zero to termination in a very short period of time. You must establish that they knew and understood the consequences of their behavior.

Also - make sure you are treating everyone the same. This will be an obvious question also that will be asked if it went forward. Again the best way to accomplish this is if you are having a problem that has been going on that you failed to act on - start over with reestablishing the standard through classes/training - employee meetings - etc.

Don’t forget what the ultimate goal is - to correct behavior - increase productivity - build a team - increase customer satisfaction - and not to terminate employees. Sometimes that happens but it is through a properly run progressive discipline process. Most importantly it is in Good Faith.

If you do otherwise - it will be really easy to see your motives. This could cost your business or your company more than you would like to believe.


Remember - Juries generally favor the terminated employee - so your process should be well intended.

Finally - as a teaching tool - just think of children. I hate to say it - but adults are like children - only adults hide their motives a little better in most cases. So what happens if you let a child get away with bad behavior - such as throwing a temper tantrum when they don’t get their way - does it get better or worse if you don’t correct it?

Need I say more?

Thank you and May God Bless You!

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