If you are having repeated behavior or performance issues with your employees, a progressive discipline policy may help nip these in the bud. In this article, we will provide you with a free progressive discipline policy sample and a guide on how to implement it at your small business.
What is Progressive Discipline?
Progressive discipline is the process of taking progressively stricter action when an employee fails to correct a problem in their performance or behavior after being given reasonable time to do so.
Our policy sample below has 5 steps to it, starting at a verbal warning and leading up to termination. For an employee who has a problem showing up on time, going through all 5 steps makes sense. For an employee who you caught stealing cash from the register or committing some other serious offense, skipping all the way to termination may make sense. Our policy sample gives employers the right to go through the steps in order or to go out of sequence if that would be better in a particular case.
Even with a progressive discipline policy, at-will employment still reigns in all states except Montana. You can read more about at-will employment, which gives the employer the right to terminate someone without cause unless you have created an employment contract with someone.
Progressive Discipline Policy Sample
Below is a progressive discipline policy example that you can customize and tweak to fit your small business. This is a pretty formal example of a policy; however, you want this policy to be crystal clear so that you can use it when needed, and use it for documenting a termination. Your employees need to understand that this is the sequence of events if they should break your company policies.
Need an employee handbook to create company policies? Check out our how-to guide for an employee handbook with a free handbook template.
One big change companies might make to the below sample is to have fewer steps in the process–a lot of companies don’t need the suspension step. Suspension can create headaches (i.e. do you pay or not pay during a suspension?), but it also can serve a purpose if you, for example, suspend a waiter for 1 week from working. He will probably either get another job (solving your problem), or he will change the behavior since he won’t be able to work.
Free Progressive Discipline Policy Sample
Corrective action is a process designed to identify and correct problems that affect an employee’s work performance or the overall performance of the department. The progressive corrective action process should be handled consistently within each unit and for each problem.
The Progressive Corrective Action Process refers to the following actions:
- Counseling or verbal warning;
- Written reprimand and warning;
iii. Suspension or Suspension pending investigation and final determination;
- Specific warning of termination; and
These steps are usually taken in sequence when an employee exhibits behavior or performance issues. However, depending on the situation, any step may be repeated, omitted, or taken out of sequence. The Company reserves the right to effect immediate termination should the situation be warranted. Each case is considered on an individual basis.
Typically, a preliminary meeting is held with the employee to allow the employee an opportunity to understand the nature of the concern and to explain his/her position on the matter. If necessary, the corrective action documentation would then be put together which would summarize the issue, taking into account any additional information the employee may have provided during the preliminary meeting.
When issuing corrective action, there should be clear and direct communication between the employee and his/her immediate supervisor. This communication should include a meeting between the employee and the supervisor.
In the case of serious misconduct, an employee may be suspended and/or discharged on the first offense. Serious workplace misconduct includes, but is not limited to:
- Behavior/language of a threatening, abusive, or inappropriate nature;
- Misuse, damage to, or loss of Company property;
- Falsification, alteration, or improper handling of Company-related records;
- Unsatisfactory customer service;
- Disclosure or misuse of confidential information;
- Unauthorized possession or concealment of weapons;
- Insubordination (e.g. refusal to carry out a direct assignment);
- Misuse of the Company’s electronic information systems;
- Possession, use, sale, manufacture, purchase, or working under the influence of non-prescribed or illegal drugs, alcohol, or other intoxicants.
Top 5 Benefits of Having a Progressive Discipline Policy
Discipline is not a favorite topic of most small business owners or managers, and some don’t see the purpose behind having a policy in place.
Here are the top 5 benefits of having a progressive discipline policy:
1. It helps you to fire someone in the right way-
Yes, there is a right way to fire someone, for both you and the employee. We talk about it extensively here, but progressive discipline and having a policy in place puts you in a good position to answer most of the questions we have in that article.
2. It provides legal documentation for your hire/fire/promote decisions-
A progressive discipline policy can help create a nice legal backbone for your personnel decisions, in case an employee takes legal action against you, claiming discrimination or unlawful termination.
3. It sets expectations from the get go for your employees-
No longer will you need to answer, “Well, what happens if I am late?” or “What happens if I get written up?” Your employees can know that if they break the rules set forth in the policy, the progressive discipline steps with be followed or even shortened if the issue is severe.
4. It gives you a chance to mentor and train your team-
A progressive discipline process, when done correctly and documented, can give you insight into where your employees need help. Why is everyone late all the time? Well, maybe the start time of the shift should be 15 minutes before the floor swap (aka shift switch) to allow for them to change places. Seeing the trends in behavior can only make your business stronger, and let you improve your training and even your hiring practices. Other times progressive discipline uncovers personal issues that affect the employee. In that case you may need to refer the employee to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have one.
5. It lets your employees trust you to follow the process-
A lot of employees at cafes, retail shops, and other hourly jobs fear that they will be fired after one minor infraction if a manager is having a bad day. A progressive discipline policy can give your employees the peace of mind that they won’t be fired for making a small mistake.
Two Drawbacks to Having a Progressive Discipline Policy
Though a progressive discipline policy is our best practice, it can have its drawbacks.
Drawback 1: It’s confining.
Ever have an employee who just gets on your nerves and you want to fire them right then, right there? Yeah, those days are over once you implement progressive discipline (and they should be over anyway! Don’t fire people like that!). While technically you can do that because of at-will employment, if you want your discipline policy to work, you need to follow the steps in accordance with the offense an employee commits and apply it uniformly. For example, for someone being tardy, it probably requires going through every single step (versus stealing or other serious offenses, where you would skip all the steps).
Drawback 2: Be careful when you skip steps.
If you want to skip steps of the policy for major offenses like smoking pot at the office, that’s fine. But if you want to skip steps because you don’t like an employee, or just “have a feeling they need to be fired”… be careful. This policy is in place so that you follow it. If you want to skip steps, proper documentation of the offense is required, like catching the employee smoking pot on a security camera.
How To Implement a Progressive Discipline Policy
We recommend that you review your policy with your management team to make sure that it makes sense for your business.
Then, once you have the final policy, you’ll want to ensure all employees get a copy and understand it. This should be a company-wide meeting or video conference call since this policy impacts people’s employment. You should also have every employee sign and date a copy of the policy and document this in their personnel files (electronic or paper is fine). If you have an employee handbook, the progressive discipline policy should also be added into there.
Make sure to give enough time in your meeting to answer questions and to explain why you are implementing this policy. Try to focus on some of the positive aspects of progressive discipline–your employees can now trust the process and trends from the discipline policy could lead to job training for everyone, which would enhance their skill set.
How To Document Progressive Discipline Actions
If you don’t have them already, you will want to make personnel files for each of your employees. This should be where you house their hiring documents, employment contracts, identification copies, and anything else related to their employment. Documenting progressive discipline issues is best practice for legal reasons because it provides support for your hiring and firing decisions.
While paper files still exist, the cloud is becoming king for storage. A good place to store them is in Gusto, our recommended payroll provider, or in another HR system. For example, performance management software like Small Improvements is designed to help small business owners document performance related issues.
If you don’t have a payroll provider or another HR system, you will want to create files on your computer and back them up in a cloud or hard drive on a regular basis.
The Bottom Line
Progressive discipline is a great option for small businesses that need to get their employees into alignment, and is a best practice for businesses in general. Fortune 100 companies practice progressive discipline, and so do major universities and government agencies. Your small business should be no different–the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks!