Posted on February 16, 2015

Strike One, Strike Two…

Progressive discipline policies are a topic that HR teams and managers alike have debated as far as their overall impact on organizational behavior and whether such policies can be enacted on a consistent, equitable basis throughout an organization.

What are progressive discipline policies?

Commonly referred to as corrective action or disciplinary procedures, progressive discipline policies are established with the objective of increasing the severity of penalties resulting from repeat occurrences that violate company policies. Most disciplinary policies are organized in a sequence such as below:

* Verbal warning
* Written warning
* Final written warning
* Termination

Progressive discipline encourages consistent practice with regard to workplace policy violations and it provides employees with a concise policy that clearly communicates the employer’s disciplinary actions with regard to serial policy infractions.

It is recommended that when the issue is directly related to job performance and the employer believes that the employee has the potential to improve upon his/her quality of work or expectations, a performance improvement plan may be implemented into the sequence.

Some employers will include suspension in the progressive discipline cycle; it is recommended that this step is reserved for workplace policy violations that require extensive investigation. Suspension is most beneficial in cases involving an employee who has been accused of a serious violation of company policy and the employee’s presence in the workplace could potentially compromise the investigation.

Progressive discipline policies broadly communicate to employees the consequences of violating a workplace policy as well as the severity of an employee’s infraction of the employer’s guidelines.

In addition to the steps encompassing this type of corrective action policy, it is imperative to consider regression with regard to the prior states of the disciplinary cycle. An employer may incorporate a practice stipulating that any infractions that recur over twelve months following the prior one will not be treated as a subsequent step in the disciplinary process; rather, the violation will be handled as an initial violation and will be disciplined accordingly.

What are downsides of progressive discipline policies?

Whereas this type of policy is systemic, employers should consider the downside of progressive discipline policies. A common characteristic of employee response to a progressive discipline policy is one of timing; employees are aware of the timeframe in which the repeated behavior will no longer be treated as a progressive step within the disciplinary cycle and may be more prone to repetitive infractions.

Additionally, employers should be mindful of severe workplace violations where adherence to the discipline policy would not be logical, due to the level of severity of the infraction. For example, the organization would not issue a verbal warning as a consequence of a physical altercation in the workplace. It is important to incorporate flexibility into the progressive disciplinary system when responding to severe workplace violations. Employers should ensure that any discipline policy in place alerts employees that the appropriate level of discipline will be determined at the employer’s discretion.

Whatever policy your organization establishes with regard to employee discipline, it is crucial to ensure your procedures are equitable and consistently applied, so they will not be arbitrary in nature or discriminatory in intent.

Looking for sample policies, handbook templates, HR checklists and more? Check out the HR Support Center, Paycor's comprehensive knowledgebase for all things HR.

_From the HR Pros of the HR Support Center