3 Sample Progressive Discipline Policies

Updated 2020

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. We recommend that your progressive discipline policy and all of your policies are reviewed by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Sample Progressive Discipline Policy

by the Society of Human Resource Professionals

Purpose

[Organization Name]'s progressive discipline policy and procedures are designed to provide a structured corrective action process to improve and prevent a recurrence of undesirable employee behavior and performance issues. 

Outlined below are the steps of [Company Name]'s progressive discipline policy and procedures. [Organization Name] reserves the right to combine or skip steps depending on the facts of each situation and the nature of the offense. Some of the factors that will be considered are whether the offense is repeated despite coaching, counseling or training; the employee's work record; and the impact the conduct and performance issues have on the organization. 

Nothing in this policy provides any contractual rights regarding employee discipline or counseling, nor should anything in this policy be read or construed as modifying or altering the employment-at-will relationship between [Organization Name] and its employees.

Procedure

Step 1: Counseling and verbal warning

Step 1 creates an opportunity for the immediate supervisor to bring attention to the existing performance, conduct or attendance issue. The supervisor should discuss with the employee the nature of the problem or the violation of company policies and procedures. The supervisor is expected to clearly describe expectations and steps the employee must take to improve his or her performance or resolve the problem.

Within five business days, the supervisor will prepare written documentation of the verbal counseling. The employee will be asked to sign this document to demonstrate his or her understanding of the issues and the corrective action.

Step 2: Written warning

The Step 2 written warning involves more-formal documentation of the performance, conduct or attendance issues and consequences.

During Step 2, the immediate supervisor and a division manager or director will meet with the employee to review any additional incidents or information about the performance, conduct or attendance issues as well as any prior relevant corrective action plans. Management will outline the consequences for the employee of his or her continued failure to meet performance or conduct expectations.

A formal performance improvement plan (PIP) requiring the employee's immediate and sustained corrective action will be issued within five business days of a Step 2 meeting. The written warning may also include a statement indicating that the employee may be subject to additional discipline, up to and including termination, if immediate and sustained corrective action is not taken.

Step 3: Suspension and final written warning

Some performance, conduct or safety incidents are so problematic and harmful that the most effective action may be the temporary removal of the employee from the workplace. When immediate action is necessary to ensure the safety of the employee or others, the immediate supervisor may suspend the employee pending the results of an investigation.

Suspensions that are recommended as part of the normal sequence of the progressive discipline policy and procedures are subject to approval from a next-level manager and HR.

Depending on the seriousness of the infraction, the employee may be suspended without pay in full-day increments consistent with federal, state and local wage and hour employment laws. Nonexempt/hourly employees may not substitute or use an accrued paid vacation or sick day in lieu of the unpaid suspension. In compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), unpaid suspension of salaried/exempt employees is reserved for serious workplace safety or conduct issues. HR will provide guidance to ensure that the discipline is administered without jeopardizing the FLSA exemption status.

Pay may be restored to the employee if an investigation of the incident or infraction absolves the employee of wrongdoing.

Step 4: Recommendation for termination of employment

The last and most serious step in the progressive discipline process is a recommendation to terminate employment. Generally, [Company Name] will try to exercise the progressive nature of this policy by first providing warnings, issuing a final written warning or suspending the employee from the workplace before proceeding to a recommendation to terminate employment. However, [Company Name] reserves the right to combine and skip steps depending on the circumstances of each situation and the nature of the offense. Furthermore, employees may be terminated without prior notice or disciplinary action.

Management's recommendation to terminate employment must be approved by human resources (HR) and the division director or designate. Final approval may be required from the CEO or designate.

Appeals Process

Employees will have the opportunity to present information to dispute information management has used to issue disciplinary action. The purpose of this process is to provide insight into extenuating circumstances that may have contributed to the employee's performance or conduct issues while allowing for an equitable solution.

If the employee does not present this information during any of the step meetings, he or she will have five business days after each of those meetings to present such information.

Performance and Conduct Issues Not Subject to Progressive Discipline

Behavior that is illegal is not subject to progressive discipline and may result in immediate termination. Such behavior may be reported to local law enforcement authorities. 

Similarly, theft, substance abuse, intoxication, fighting and other acts of violence at work are also not subject to progressive discipline and may be grounds for immediate termination.

Documentation

The employee will be provided copies of all progressive discipline documentation, including all PIPs. The employee will be asked to sign copies of this documentation attesting to his or her receipt and understanding of the corrective action outlined in these documents.

Copies of these documents will be placed in the employee's official personnel file.

Sample Progressive Discipline Policy

by the Management Center


Purpose

[Company Name]’s progressive discipline policy and procedures are designed to provide a structured corrective action process to improve and prevent a recurrence of undesirable employee behavior and performance issues.

Outlined below are the steps of [Company Name]’s progressive discipline policy and procedures. [Company Name] reserves the right to combine or skip steps depending on the facts of each situation and the nature of the offense. Some of the factors that will be considered are whether the offense is repeated despite coaching, counseling or training; the employee’s work record; and the impact the conduct and performance issues have on the organization.

Nothing in this policy provides any contractual rights regarding employee discipline or counseling, nor should anything in this policy be read or construed as modifying or altering the employment-at-will relationship between [Company Name] and its employees.

Procedure

Step 1: Counseling and verbal warning

Step 1 creates an opportunity for the immediate supervisor to bring attention to the existing performance, conduct or attendance issue. The supervisor should discuss with the employee the nature of the problem or the violation of company policies and procedures. The supervisor is expected to clearly describe expectations and steps the employee must take to improve his or her performance or resolve the problem.

Within five business days, the supervisor will prepare written documentation of the verbal counseling. The employee will be asked to sign this document to demonstrate his or her understanding of the issues and the corrective action.

Step 2: Written warning

The Step 2 written warning involves more-formal documentation of the performance, conduct or attendance issues and consequences.

During Step 2, the immediate supervisor and a division manager or director will meet with the employee to review any additional incidents or information about the performance, conduct or attendance issues as well as any prior relevant corrective action plans. Management will outline the consequences for the employee of his or her continued failure to meet performance or conduct expectations.

A formal performance improvement plan (PIP) requiring the employee’s immediate and sustained corrective action will be issued within five business days of a Step 2 meeting. The written warning may also include a statement indicating that the employee may be subject to additional discipline, up to and including termination, if immediate and sustained corrective action is not taken.

Step 3: Suspension and final written warning

Some performance, conduct or safety incidents are so problematic and harmful that the most effective action may be the temporary removal of the employee from the workplace. When immediate action is necessary to ensure the safety of the employee or others, the immediate supervisor may suspend the employee pending the results of an investigation.

Suspensions that are recommended as part of the normal sequence of the progressive discipline policy and procedures are subject to approval from a next-level manager and HR.

Depending on the seriousness of the infraction, the employee may be suspended without pay in full-day increments consistent with federal, state and local wage and hour employment laws. Nonexempt/hourly employees may not substitute or use an accrued paid vacation or sick day in lieu of the unpaid suspension. In compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), unpaid suspension of salaried/exempt employees is reserved for serious workplace safety or conduct issues. HR will provide guidance to ensure that the discipline is administered without jeopardizing the FLSA exemption status.

Pay may be restored to the employee if an investigation of the incident or infraction absolves the employee of wrongdoing.

Step 4: Recommendation for termination of employment

The last and most serious step in the progressive discipline process is a recommendation to terminate employment. Generally, [Company Name] will try to exercise the progressive nature of this policy by first providing warnings, issuing a final written warning or suspending the employee from the workplace before proceeding to a recommendation to terminate employment. However, [Company Name] reserves the right to combine and skip steps depending on the circumstances of each situation and the nature of the offense. Furthermore, employees may be terminated without prior notice or disciplinary action.

Management’s recommendation to terminate employment must be approved by human resources (HR) and the division director or designate. Final approval may be required from the CEO or designate.

Appeals Process

Employees will have the opportunity to present information to dispute information management has used to issue disciplinary action. The purpose of this process is to provide insight into extenuating circumstances that may have contributed to the employee’s performance or conduct issues while allowing for an equitable solution.

If the employee does not present this information during any of the step meetings, he or she will have five business days after each of those meetings to present such information.

Performance and Conduct Issues Not Subject to Progressive Discipline

Behavior that is illegal is not subject to progressive discipline and may result in immediate termination. Such behavior may be reported to local law enforcement authorities.

Similarly, theft, substance abuse, intoxication, fighting and other acts of violence at work are also not subject to progressive discipline and may be grounds for immediate termination.

Documentation

The employee will be provided copies of all progressive discipline documentation, including all PIPs. The employee will be asked to sign copies of this documentation attesting to his or her receipt and understanding of the corrective action outlined in these documents.

Copies of these documents will be placed in the employee’s official personnel file.

Sample Progressive Discipline Policy

by Workable

Policy brief & purpose

Our Progressive Discipline policy outlines the steps we will take to address an employee’s misconduct.

We recognize that people make mistakes and our employees may not always follow our policies closely. We want to give our employees a chance to correct their behavior when possible and assist them in the process. We also want to ensure that serious offenses are thoroughly investigated and dealt with.

Scope

This policy applies to all our employees.

Policy elements

Our disciplinary process has six steps of increasing strictness. These steps are:

  1. Verbal warning

  2. Informal meeting with supervisor

  3. Formal reprimand

  4. Formal disciplinary meeting

  5. Penalties

  6. Termination

 

All these phases are official and managers should document them. HR must also keep records of the process from step 3 onwards.

 

Managers should let employees know when they launch a progressive discipline procedure. For example, pointing out a performance issue is not necessarily a verbal warning and may be part of the regular feedback an employee receives. If managers judge that a progressive disciplinary process is appropriate, they must clarify this to their team member and document the step.

Each step may be repeated instead of moving forward to the next step at HR or a manager’s discretion. For example, a supervisor may choose to have more than one informal meeting with their employees (step 2) before they ask HR to issue a formal reprimand (step 3.) Managers can make the decision to repeat a step if they:

  • Feel that the step was not properly executed the first time.

  • See signs of improvement in their employee and want to help them further.

  • Believe conditions or parameters change enough to make repeating the step necessary.

 

Explaining the steps

Step 1: When a manager or HR issues a verbal warning to an employee, they should do so privately. When appropriate, they should provide that employee with a copy of the company policy they violated, and explain our progressive discipline steps. Supervisors should provide employees with any coaching or advice they need.

Employees have [two weeks] to correct their behavior before step 2 takes effect.

 

Step 2: A manager (or HR if appropriate) discusses corrective actions with an employee. Employees should receive actionable feedback on how to deal with an unintentional violation. They can review coaching or mentoring methods.

Employees have [a month] to correct their behavior before step 3 takes effect.

 

Step 3: Employees receive a formal written reprimand. HR should inform them that if they do not correct their behavior within [one week], step 4 will take effect.

 

Step 4: Employees will be called in for a formal disciplinary meeting with HR, their Department Head and/or their supervisor. They will have the chance to explain their side and HR is obliged to investigate. HR must clarify that this is the final step before an employee is penalized.

Employees must correct their behavior immediately, or step 5 takes effect.

 

Step 5: This step encompasses any penalties that employees will receive. This usually includes detraction of certain perks and benefits (as long as they are not mandatory by law.) It may also include suspension without pay or demotion for serious offenses. We will still provide counseling in this stage if appropriate (e.g. minor cases of substance abuse.) We will apply this step uniformly and fairly. It will not result in adverse impact for protected groups.

Employees must correct their behavior within [one month] before step 6 takes effect.

 

Step 6: Employees who continue to violate our policies, either voluntarily or involuntarily, by this stage will be terminated. This step will follow an official investigation by HR (or legal authorities when appropriate) to ensure that terminating an employee is fair. A termination for cause will refer to employees who were guilty of severe violations or felonies.

 

How to invoke progressive discipline

The progressive discipline process may begin from a different step, according to the severity of an employee’s misconduct:

Performance issues. Procedure starts at stage 1. Examples are:

Minor offenses (one-time). Procedure starts at stage 1. Examples are:

Serious misconduct/ Repeating an offense for which a progressive discipline procedure already took place. Procedure starts at stage 3. Examples are:

  • On-the-job major mistakes.

  • Rudeness to customers or partners.

  • Unwillingness to follow Health & Safety standards

Severe violations. Procedure starts at stage 5. Examples are:

  • Substance abuse.

  • Offensive behavior.

  • Retaliation against an employee.

Illegal behavior. Procedure starts at step 6. Examples are:

 

HR/Department Heads can skip any of the steps if they believe they are obsolete. For example, if an employee has received several formal reprimands for the same offense, HR may choose to terminate them directly. Or an employee may be directly suspended for a short period as a punishment.

This policy is meant to provide general guidelines. Our company reserves the right to treat circumstances in a different way from that described in this policy. But, we are always obliged to act fairly and lawfully and document every stage of the progressive discipline process.

 

Right to appeal

Employees who were not terminated for cause or were not found guilty for illegal behavior may file an appeal. For example, if an employee thinks they were demoted unfairly, they can bring this issue to the attention of HR. HR will evaluate the situation and may organize a hearing.

Preventing progressive discipline

Disciplining an employee is never a pleasant task. For the sake of everyone involved, we will take actions to prevent the need for disciplinary action. We will:

  • Announce any revisions or changes in our policies to all our employees in a formal manner (e.g. bulletins, newsletters.)

  • Use frequent employee performance meetings to address issues before they become problems.

  • Train managers to communicate, enforce and abide by policies.

  • Train employees in certain policies and procedures.

  • Establish a culture of respect and collaboration.

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