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Progressive Disciplinary Action and Documentation

Conflict in the workplace is not something that owners, managers and supervisors seek out.  However, it happens every day in organizations of all sizes. Most management-level employees do not do a great job of documenting negative subordinate behaviors, work habits, or performance, nor do they even do an okay job. Documentation for negative employee behaviors, work habits, and 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 organizations do take the time to document negative employee behaviors, work habits, and performance they are building a strong defense to a lawsuit for discrimination or wrongful termination. By showing that the employee had plenty of time to improve their negative behaviors, poor work habits, and poor performance and documenting that information, the organization is building a strong case in their own favor.

Having a progressive disciplinary action policy for administering equitable and consistent discipline for unsatisfactory conduct or performance in the workplace is important.  An organization’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.

Documentation is the “key” to a successful progressive disciplinary action program. Having one consistent form that is used for all verbal (often verbal written) warnings, written warnings, suspensions, if the employee needs to be removed from the workplace in order for the organization to complete an investigation, and terminations is important.  Remember that consistency is the “key” and recording all information on the same form for all negative behaviors, poor work habits, and poor performance actions is critical. If your organization 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 Supervisor Completing the Report
  • Dates of Occurrence(s)
  • Action Taken – Verbal Warning, Written Warning, Suspension, or Termination
  • Description of the Issue(s) – Absence, Tardiness, Conduct, Safety Violation, Policy Violation, Substandard Performance, or Other
  • Detailed Explanation of the Event – Include specific details and facts
  • Goals or Actions to Correct the Behavior(s) or Performance – Include specific details
  • Timeline(s) for Goals or Actions to be Implemented by the Employee – Include date(s)
  • Follow-up Dates for the Supervisor/Manager to Follow-up with the Employee – Include date(s)
  • Indications Should the Infraction Occur Again – Written Warning and/or Termination
  • Employee Comment Area
  • Signature Area – Employee and Manager or Supervisor

It is important for managers and supervisors to make sure that all of the information that they are including in the written progressive disciplinary action form is factual and includes cited examples.  Hearsay, or items that are not factual and verifiable should not be included in the text on the form. Other employee’s names should also not be included in the written text. If managers or supervisors need to reference another individual they should reference them by job title. In addition, all acronyms should be spelled out, as other individuals who may need to reference the document at a later date may not understand what each acronym means in context to the written progressive disciplinary action.

All written progressive disciplinary action forms should be reviewed with the affected employee.  Whether the employee agrees with the written document is not at issue. The manager is informing the employee that there is an issue and whether the employee agrees or not is not always relevant at this point. While there should be a space on the form for an employee to document their response, if they choose not to do so, that is fine.  However, if they do elect to do so, then the manager or supervisor may find that there are other implications for the negative behavior, poor work habits, and/or poor performance that may need to be addressed.  Remember, the goal is to get the employee to improve and learn from what is being presented versus trying to put the employee on the defense and total communication is the “key” to the employee being successful with future improvements.

Lastly, the employee should be given the opportunity to sign the written progressive disciplinary action form.  If they chose not to sign the form that is okay.  At this point, the manager or supervisor should write “refused to sign” on the employee’s signature line, sign the document themselves and give the employee a copy and place the original in the performance management section of their employee file.

So, by taking the time to document negative behaviors, poor work habits, and poor performance employers are communicating to the employee that they expect improvement in the specified area. Continued coaching and positive reinforcement from the manager or supervisor are also essential to the employee improving and learning from the progressive disciplinary action experience. Hopefully, by going through this process it will lead to continued improvement by the employee and coaching from the manager or supervisor versus having to discipline in the future.

For additional information on the topic of progressive disciplinary action and documentation, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.

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.