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Does Your Company Utilize Progressive Disciplinary Action?

Conflict in the workplace is not something that owners, managers and supervisors seek out.  However, it happens every day in companies of all sizes. Most management-level employees do not do a great job of documenting negative subordinate behaviors or poor performance, nor do they even do an okay job. Documentation for negative employee behaviors and poor performance is generally viewed as a pain and too time consuming. In addition, managers may not know what to write and no one is following behind them to make sure that it is getting done. However, when companies do take the time to document negative employee behaviors and poor performance they are building a strong defense to a lawsuit for discrimination or wrongful discharge. By showing that the employee had plenty of time to improve their negative behaviors and poor performance and documenting that information, the company is building a strong case in their own favor. Thus, a strong progressive disciplinary action policy and procedure is something that every company should implement and utilize.

Having a progressive disciplinary action policy and procedure for administering equitable and consistent discipline for unsatisfactory conduct or performance in the workplace is important.  A company’s own best interest lies in ensuring fair treatment of all employees and in making certain that disciplinary actions are prompt, uniform, and impartial. The major purpose of any disciplinary action is to correct the issue and/or problem, prevent a recurrence, and prepare the employee for satisfactory, or better, service or performance in the future.

Progressive disciplinary action may include one of three to four steps – verbal warning, written warning and termination. Additionally, suspension may be included as one of the steps. However, suspension is only recommended when removing the employee from the workplace during an investigation, as appropriate. Whether to pay or not to pay the employee for the suspension period is debatable. Some argue that the employee should not receive a paid vacation, so to speak, for their disciplinary time away from work.  Others argue that the employee should be paid until the situation is resolved.  Whatever the case, it may be a good idea to consult with a legal professional or HR consultant, if your company encounters a suspension situation.

Documentation is the “key” to a successful progressive disciplinary action program. Having one form that is used for all verbal (often verbal written) warnings, written warnings, suspensions and terminations is critical.  Remember that consistency is the “key” and recording all information on the same type of form for all negative behaviors and poor performance actions is essential. If your company has a form, check to see that it includes the following:

  • Name of Employee
  • Date of Report
  • Job Title of Employee
  • Department Name of Employee
  • Name and Title of the Person Completing the Document
  • Dates of Occurrence(s)
  • Current Action Being Taken – Select from verbal warning, written warning, suspension, or termination.
  • Description of the Issue(s) – Select from absence, tardiness, conduct, safety violation, policy violation, substandard performance, or other.
  • Detailed Explanation of the Event – Include specific details and facts only. Do not include names of witnesses, only their job titles and relationship to the employee.
  • Specific Goals or Actions to be Completed by the Employee to Correct the Behavior(s) or Performance – Include specific details and resources needed.
  • Timeline(s) for Goals or Actions to be Completed by the Employee
  • Follow-Up Dates for the Manager/Supervisor to Follow-up with the Employee – To determine if improvement has been made or further progressive disciplinary action should be taken.
  • Indications Should the Infraction Occur Again – Select the next step, which is usually a written warning, and/or termination, once the verbal warning stage has been completed.
  • Employee Comment Area – Allow the employee room to comment on their feelings, ideas, etc. or explain their side of the story with regards to the situation.
  • Signature Area – Employee and Manager/Supervisor – Remember, that if the employee refuses to sign the document, that is okay. Write “refused to sign” on the signature line. Explain to them that by signing the document they are not agreeing or disagreeing with the information presented. They are solely acknowledging that the conversation and documentation took place.

The information that is included in the progressive disciplinary action form is critical to the employee’s success in the deficient area. So being detail-oriented, consistent and listing facts is important. Remember that the goal of progressive disciplinary action is to improve the employee’s negative behaviors and/or correct poor performance, not necessarily to terminate them.  Make sure that you only list facts about the situation and not opinions. Give concrete examples, when possible, and staple policies, procedures or any other related documents supporting your facts to the form.  Your goal throughout the process should be to assist the employee to improved performance or behaviors and by providing them with the resources and goals to do so, the chances of improvement are definitely in both the employees and company’s favor.

For additional information on this topic, please contact New Focus HR, LLC.

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.