The Importance of Progressive Discipline

In many cases, a good manager can correct a team member’s poor performance with simple coaching techniques, but documentation is sometimes necessary.  Your company handbook should have a disciplinary policy in writing.  This gives you a plan to follow and your employee’s knowledge of possible corrective action.  It may also protect you from possible lawsuits.

Start with a Good Form

A disciplinary form should be simple and straightforward.  You can find one online and download it if necessary.  A proper form allows you to gather all of the employee’s basic information, the date and time of the incident, the description of the incident, and a field for you to list the company policy that was broken.  It is also good practice to list their expected actions and behavior.  It may include check boxes indicating what step in the process it is.

First, A Verbal Warning

A verbal warning is usually acceptable for an employee’s first offense.  Anything which is a criminal activity or would bring harm to themselves or another team member, you should deal with swiftly.  However, for minor infractions, sit them down and have a discussion. Document all verbal warnings to show a form of discipline is taking place.  It is important to treat this as a moment to coach your team member.  Tell them exactly what they did, and how it goes against the policies and procedures.  Also, allow them time to respond as things are not always as they seem.  When the discussion is over, and the documentation is complete, the action form goes into the employee’s personnel file.

Next, A Written Warning

Sometimes it is necessary to reprimand the same person again.  If this happens, issue a written warning. Again, document and include this in their personnel file. They should read exactly what is written and be offered a chance to write down any responses they have.  If they choose to not respond, they are usually not required to sign the document. This does not take away from its validity; it shows they do not agree with the statements made but have chosen to not respond in writing.  Continue to coach them and explain the consequences of their actions.

Final Written Warning, Then Termination

By now, if their performance is not improving, a final written warning will be necessary.  This also needs to be included in their personnel file.  If the employee still does not show improvement, you will need to complete the final step in the process and present your documentation to your human resource manager.  If they agree with your findings, they will complete the termination process.

Closing Thoughts

Most handbooks have a disciplinary action process, and many managers will put a 30, 60, or 90-day plan of improvement into place.  This gives the employee a fair chance to improve their performance and you to retain a valuable employee.

Lastly, it is advisable to have a third-party present at any disciplinary discussion you have with team members. You may ask another manager or supervisor, but the human resource specialist at your company is probably the best choice.  This person’s forte is Human Resources (HR); they know the laws that will protect you in the event of a contested termination.  If they are unable to attend, choose another trusted manager, but send a statement to HR immediately following the meeting.  They should be aware from the first time you discipline an employee; Human Resources should never be the last to know.

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