HR Management & Compliance

Pros and Cons of a Progressive Discipline Program

How should an employer react when an employee violates one of the company policies? What measures should be taken? How can the employer remain consistent in these actions? One way employers choose to answer these questions is with a progressive discipline policy.

What Is a Progressive Discipline Policy?

A progressive discipline policy is one that has a clear progression of disciplinary actions that will be taken when an employee violates the work rules. For example, a typical progressive disciplinary policy might include steps like this:

  • Verbal warning. A verbal warning is one that is more informal. It serves to ensure that the employee is aware of the infraction and is given the opportunity to take steps to remedy it. (The warning is verbal, but you should document it.)
  • Written warning (one or more). A written warning is a more formal warning to the employee. It is issued if the verbal warning does not result in a positive change in the employee’s behavior. It usually includes an action plan or next steps that must be taken in order to ensure that there are no further consequences. An employer may choose to have more than one written warning for some infractions. Usually, the employer and employee sign the written warning and it goes into the employee’s personnel file.
  • Suspension (with or without pay). Suspension is generally reserved for major infractions or for situations that require investigation before further action is taken. It can serve as a final warning to the employee that if behavior is not improved, termination will result next.
  • Termination. Termination is usually a last resort, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. Documentation is important every step of the way, but especially for any termination decision.

Bear in mind that some infractions may warrant skipping the early steps altogether. Having a progressive disciplinary system in place does not mean that an employer cannot move immediately to termination for serious violations such as violence, harassment, theft, or major safety violations. This should be explained in the policy itself.

Pros and Cons of Progressive Discipline

With any workplace policy, there are pros and cons, and progressive discipline is no exception. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest advantages and disadvantages to such a policy.

Here are the pros:

  • It provides a clear explanation of the consequences of not following the employer’s rules or not meeting expectations.
  • It provides the opportunity for consistency and fairness in disciplinary procedures for different employees.
  • It gives the opportunity for an employee to change behaviors. This is especially true in cases where the employee may not have realized they were breaking the rules or causing a problem.
  • It gives the employer the chance to explain to the employee what actions can be taken to improve the situation; this is a chance for coaching and mentoring.
  • It provides the employer with alternatives to termination for minor infractions. This improves employee retention.
  • It also can enhance employee morale when the employees know the employer is not going to fire them for a minor issue. Morale can also be enhanced by the knowledge that poor behavior of others will be addressed.
  • It provides evidence that the employer gave the employee every opportunity to improve.

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Here are the cons:

  • Such a policy can seem inflexible; HR and managers have to make judgment calls when to deviate from the progressive steps (as may be necessary when considering all circumstances).
  • If not followed consistently for all employees, this could appear to be discriminatory. (Note: This problem exists any time different disciplinary actions are taken for different employees who have committed the same violation; it is not unique to employers using progressive discipline.) The primary concern here is the potential for litigation if this occurs.
  • Some fear that such a policy implies that the steps must be followed before any termination, which could have the effect of an implied contract stating that an employee will never be terminated without these steps. The fear is that this might jeopardize the “at-will” status of the employment.
  • It can be time-consuming to use in practice, especially for organizations with limited resources. Not only does the process itself take time but it also requires training in advance, documentation during each incidence, and follow-up.
  • For some businesses, especially small organizations, it may not be practical to follow these steps as it may not be practical to keep an employee on staff who violates any rule. Or, it may not be feasible to keep the business running with a suspended employee. It just might not be practical to implement for every organization.

Do the pros outweigh the cons in your organization? Every employer must decide. Some have chosen to take steps to mitigate the risks presented in each of these “cons.” For example, they might include a disclaimer in the policy noting that steps may be skipped at the employer’s discretion and that the policy does not affect the at-will nature of employment. Other employers opt to use a progressive disciplinary policy, but choose not to advertise this to the employees, instead using it as an internal guideline. What decision is best for your organization?

Progressive discipline sits on the negative side of engagement … how about considering the positive side, beginning with respect?

Do your employees share and collaborate, or do you find the work is not getting done because of sniping and resistance? Perhaps your workplace needs a tune-up and an injection of respect and civility.

Research demonstrates a clear link between employee engagement and all aspects of organizational vitality, including productivity, quality, innovation, compliance, retention, customer loyalty, and the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of employees. One of the most significant factors impacting employee engagement is the degree to which they feel respected at work—especially from their supervisor and coworkers.

Disrespectful workplace behaviors—harassment, discrimination, prejudice, and bullying—are allowed to run rampant in many organizations. These not only decrease employee engagement and increase turnover but also contribute to a hostile workplace environment and can result in legal action.

For your organizations to thrive, you need to create a culture of RESPECT—truly lived by all and where people are held accountable when they act disrespectfully.

How to get there? Fortunately, there’s timely help in the form of BLR’s new webinar—Engaging Employees with RESPECT: How to Boost Productivity, Quality, Innovation, and Retention In just 90 minutes on July 16, you’ll learn everything you need to know to build respect and engagement at your organization.

Register today for this interactive webinar.

Find out more.

Engagement? It starts with RESPECT. Join us July 16 for an interactive webinar,  Engaging Employees with RESPECT: How to Boost Productivity, Quality, Innovation, and Retention. Earn 1.5 hours in HRCI Recertification Credit. Register Now

By participating in this interactive webinar, you’ll learn:

  • The critical difference between employee engagement and motivation.
  • Why traditional reward and recognition programs decrease overall employee morale and productivity.
  • How respect can create a productive atmosphere for your team.
  • Examples of respectful and disrespectful workplace behaviors—so you can gauge how your workplace sizes up in the respect department.
  • How to create a respectful workplace culture using an actionable philosophy known as the RESPECT model.

In just 90 minutes, learn best practices for transforming your workplace environment, engaging employees, and meeting objectives as a cohesive team.

Register now for this event risk-free.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Eastern)

12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Central)

11:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. (Mountain)

10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (Pacific)

Approved for Recertification Credit

This program has been approved for 1.5 credit hours toward recertification through the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI).

Join us on July 16—you’ll get the in-depth Engaging Employees with RESPECT: How to Boost Productivity, Quality, Innovation, and Retention webinar AND you’ll get all of your particular questions answered by our experts.

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Train Your Entire Staff

As with all BLR/HRHero® webinars:

  • Train all the staff you can fit around a conference phone.
  • You can get your (and their) specific phoned-in or e-mailed questions answered in Q&A sessions that follow each segment of the presentation.

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About your presenter:

Paul Marciano, PhD, is a leading authority on employee engagement and respect in the workplace. He has worked in the field of human resources and organizational development for more than 25 years and is president of the human relations consulting firm Whiteboard, LLC, a company committed to helping organizations cultivate, manage, and grow their human capital through targeted behavioral solutions based on Marciano’s RESPECT Model™.

His best-selling business book, Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT™, has received critical acclaim and been translated into several languages. His new book, SuperTeams: Using the Principles of RESPECT™ to Unleash Explosive Business Performance, provides organizations with the know-how to have employees fully engage themselves and other team members to deliver results that consistently exceed customer expectations.

Marciano earned his doctorate in clinical psychology from Yale University, where he specialized in behavior modification and motivation, and has taught undergraduate and graduate courses at Yale University, Princeton University, and Davidson College.

Register now or find out more about the new HR webinar, Engaging Employees with RESPECT: How to Boost Productivity, Quality, Innovation, and Retention.