Updating your Progressive Discipline Policy

An annual review of your progressive discipline policy is good HR practice. Is your policy helping you to change unwanted behaviours? Are your employees aware of the policy and do they understand how it works? Is the policy helping you to communicate expected behaviour in the workplace? Is the policy being consistently and appropriately applied by your HR team?

Many employers think of progressive discipline policies only in terms of providing them with the foundation for a with cause termination if they need it. While a progressive discipline policy can do that, the more powerful tool that the policy can be is one that drives and changes behaviour in the workplace. Terminations, whether they are for cause or without cause, are costly to organizations. Terminations are time consuming, distracting and disruptive. You are always going to be further ahead if you can create longevity with your staff – and one way of doing so is through effective progressive discipline.

So, what is a progressive discipline policy? It is a comprehensive document that sets out the process that will be followed if either performance or behaviour problems arise in the workplace.  The policy is a document that your HR team can turn to any time they have a performance or behaviour problem to address. Like any other policy, your progressive discipline policy should have an introductory statement of purpose. The policy should state who it applies to and should describe the progressive discipline process that is in place in your workplace. A typical progressive discipline process will provide guidance for a number of disciplinary process levels starting with informal coaching, and ending with termination. Typically, between coaching and termination, you will have verbal warning, written warning and final written warning with possible suspension. Your policy should document investigation and documentation procedures.  The policy should be signed by each employee with an acknowledgment that they have read it and should be carefully followed in the event that performance or behaviour issues lead to the necessity to institute disciplinary proceedings. During the disciplinary process, the employee who is being disciplined should be reminded of the policy and the steps that will follow if a change in performance or behaviour is not seen.

Progressive discipline can be used to address virtually any performance or behaviour issue that arises in the workplace. Examples of the types of issues that can be addressed through progressive discipline include:

  • violations of protocols, regulations and procedures governing safety or compliance;
  • misuse of fiscal or electronic resources;
  • inappropriate or unprofessional behaviour, such as profanity, insults or solicitation; or
  • attendance and absenteeism issues.

As part of your annual HR review, take a look at your progressive discipline policy.  Does it clearly lay out the progression of discipline that will be applied? Has it been signed by all employees? Is your HR staff familiar with the progressive discipline policy and do they understand how to apply the various disciplinary steps?

A properly drafted progressive discipline policy that is communicated to the workforce and consistently and properly applied by your HR team has the potential to change behaviour.  Correction of behaviour and performance issues reduces the frequency of terminations and helps provide stability to your workplace. This in turn results in cost savings and increased productivity.

This update was authored by Rose Keith. Have questions regarding the topic discussed? Contact Rose at rkeith@harpergrey.com or anyone else listed on the authors page.