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Progressive Discipline

Progressive discipline is the process of dealing with behaviors and actions in the workplace that do not meet expectations or communicated performance standards. This process uses increasingly severe steps to correct a problem after an employee has been given a reasonable opportunity to do so, and fails. The goal is to help the employee overcome performance issues and fulfill job expectations – it is initially not meant to be a punishment, just an alert that there is a problem to be corrected.

Typical guidelines to follow are:

  • Verbally advise the employee on the performance or behavioral issue(s) and determine his or her understanding of the expectations going forward. This should be a low key meeting conducted in a friendly, yet firm matter. Learn whether or not there are extenuating circumstances contributing to the performance or behavioral problem(s) and assist the employee with solving these, if possible. Document the results of this verbal conversation on a progressive disciplinary action form, as a verbal warning and determine if this step needs to be repeated if you think it is necessary and beneficial for the employee in solving the problem.
  • Complete a written warning to place in the employee’s file, if the problem continues and the employee shows no improvement, or if it is a problem that is egregious enough to bypass a verbal warning such as violating a rule of misconduct, as stated in your company’s employee handbook. A written warning should include information with regards to an explanation of the facts of the incident, goals or actions to be taken by the employee to correct the performance issue or behavior, a timeline for the goals or actions to be taken, follow-up dates, consequences should the employee not improve and an area for the employee to provide their own comments on the situation. Remember, if the employee is not willing to sign the progressive disciplinary action form/written warning document, write “refused to sign” on the line and move on.
  • Some organizations use suspension in their progressive disciplinary action process. We at New Focus HR only recommend suspension if you need to remove the employee from the workplace to conduct an investigation. Whether you provide the employee with or without pay during this time frame depends upon the reason why you are suspending the employee. It may be beneficial to contact an HR professional experienced in the area of disciplinary action or your legal counsel before making the decision to suspend an employee? Again, this step should be documented on a progressive disciplinary action form/suspension document.
  • If the employee refuses to improve their performance after these steps, termination may be necessary and make sure to complete the documentation in the same format that your company utilized for the first couple of steps, preferably on a progressive disciplinary action form.

The circumstances of each progressive disciplinary action may be different, so remember that these are only suggestions to follow. There is no strict set of steps that must be followed prior to terminating an employee, however, make sure that you are consistent in your practices and follow company procedures as defined in your employee handbook.

If you have any additional questions regarding progressive discipline or the development of a legally compliant employee handbook for your organization, please contact New Focus HR.

Written by:  Kristen Deutsch, M.B. A., CCP






New Focus HR is a human resources consulting and training company that services all organizations. Our expert team collaborates with businesses to attract, motivate, retrain and retain their biggest assets, employees. While engaged with an organization, our focus is to find solutions that improve the company’s internal HR-related practices while increasing results at the same time! Our focus. Your results.