Discipline is one of the least enjoyable processes an employer carries out. While employers have a responsibility to ensure their expectations are enforced for the sake of the success of their organization and employees’ safety, it can be an uncomfortable process and does come with risks if done wrong.
Effective progressive discipline offers a consistent method of addressing situations where employees do not comply with the established rules of conduct in a supportive, productive, and safe way. Applying increasing severity of steps when an employee fails to correct a behaviour after being given a reasonable opportunity to do so, will leave you in a position where you can demonstrate your due diligence. Not only do you mitigate risk, but you will also demonstrate a workplace culture built on fairness.
Last month’s blog about coaching conversations provided you with the resources to get the source of an employees undesirable behavior. It helped you answer the question: does the employee have the information, skills, and time to do the task or behaviour that I am expecting? To recap, you can ask the employee what they need to know (information), learn (skills), or delegate/delay (time) to do something. These coaching conversations should be documented but aren’t considered discipline; rather, a learning opportunity for the employee. If coaching isn’t successful, you can move into your progressive discipline process.
Progressive discipline is the formal process of addressing behaviours that aren’t in line with expectations or established rules. It is the next step beyond regular training and coaching. The discipline is “progressive” because it moves through expected stages. It is seen as a transparent, fair, and consistent way to treat employees. Fair and consistent practices are how you build a positive workplace culture and work to mitigate your risk of discrimination and constructive dismissal. It is designed to comply with Human Rights legislation, Health and Safety legislation, and employment law.
A Progressive Discipline Policy is a useful tool to understand “how” to do these steps. However, this policy isn’t a requirement in the workplace in the same way as a health and safety policy or harassment prevention policy. Additionally, your discipline policy should be in line with your organizational culture and may include alternate definitions of discipline, more or fewer steps, additional supports in place, and different timelines. Ultimately, the employer must be clear with what is expected and by when. If, after clear coaching, the behaviour is reoccurring, move to progressive discipline.
Documented Progressive Discipline Steps:
Each step should include an explanation of the undesired behaviour, the rule(s) violated, the actions to correct it, a timeline, and the consequences.
Level 1: Verbal Warning – a discussion
A behaviour that was known to be inappropriate caused operational rework, impacting productivity.
For the third month in a row, an employee did not attend a client update meeting simply because they did not open their calendar that morning, causing the team and project to be late and impacting company reputation.
Level 2: Written Warning – a discussion, followed by a formal letter
A behaviour that was known to be inappropriate caused reputational damage.
A public defamation was written on social media from an employee’s personal account about a client, naming the employer. The client saw it and started steps to end the working relationship with the company.
Level 3: Suspension – a formal letter and temporary removal from the workplace
A behaviour that was known to be inappropriate caused serious damage to company property.
Horsing around in the warehouse caused a stack of supplies on a pallet to fall over, causing damage to some product and 3 other people to help clean up the mess.
Level 4: Termination of Employment – a formal letter and permanent removal from the workplace
A behaviour that was known to be inappropriate caused a significant workplace injury.
An employee who is vocal about their hatred of wearing fall arrest while working from heights told a young worker not to wear it even though it is company policy, and that worker fell and broke their arm while working.
Every situation is different, but some general tips on progressive discipline can be considered
The severity of the infraction determines what stage to start at, but be consistent with how all employees are treated. Consider providing examples for your supervisors to know what level of infraction is appropriate for each stage.
Focus on the behaviour, not the person.
Focus more on desired outcome and timing and less on how to get something done, unless more training on the procedure is needed.
If you need to lay out details in-depth, you may want to consider providing a Performance Improvement Plan.
Ensure you have SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based).
Check with HR or legal to ensure that suspension is permissible under the terms of the employee’s contract (or collective agreement).
Regardless of the method of discipline (verbal or written), always include a description of the behaviour, a clear outline that it is unacceptable, a timeline of the expectation to correct the behaviour, and clear consequences of what happens if that timeline isn’t met, including the possible end of their employment.
During the discussion:
Ask questions, listen, and discuss ideas for resolution with the employee, before putting it in writing. Involving the employee in the corrective process helps them to engage, learn, and understand that they have a say in the problem-solving as well.
The employee should sign a written warning to confirm that the conversation was held. The employee may not necessarily agree, but you want to confirm that a conversation took place since this is usually done behind closed doors
Documentation is time consuming, but necessary, in the event of a legal claim for wrongful dismissal or discrimination.
Maintain employee dignity and keep the situation discreet and only share with those who need to know.
May involve an investigation to determine facts and multiple perspectives.
The issue can move forward and backwards through the stages depending on the plan to address the action and timeline.
Your HR business partner, or services like our 4-Hour Monthly HR Advice Package , can help you adopt best practices that apply to your unique organization and jurisdiction.
For professional HR advice that you can trust, contact us today!
Lisa Isaac HR Professional Services
From the LIHR team.
Primary contributor: Lisa Isaac