Progressive discipline leads to better documentation when firing an employee.

by on May 27, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Consistency is important when firing an employee

Progressive discipline a system that’s designed to improve employee performance and creates proper documentation that will help in defending your reasons for firing an employee.

Employees must change
It really begins with understanding that the company can’t change the employee’s conduct. It is up to the employee to change his or her conduct. So, clear guidelines and policies that are well-communicated to employees and consistently applied will minimize the potential for a legal claim against a company. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that progressive discipline is not always appropriate.

For example, if you have got a serious infraction like dangerous, harmful or unethical conduct, that could warrant immediately firing an employee. But in most circumstances, progressive discipline may be appropriate. You might have a policy that starts with oral counseling then gives written counseling. After that you might initiate a performance improvement plan, or perhaps, a suspension. If that fails, then you’ll resort to firing an employee.

Flexible policies
Keeping policies flexible also helps. You don’t want to get into trouble by establishing a hard and fast policy, like saying we will always give two written warnings, but then going back on that. It’s better to say that your company may take any of the following steps but doing so is not required and situations will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

That being said, you want to be consistent. So, even though you have flexibility in your policy, you want to address things in a consistent manner for similarly situated employees.

The reality is even if your company does not have a formal progressive discipline policy, you want to follow progressive discipline steps anyway because its unlikely that you’re going to be firing an employee for a minor first offense.

Stages of progressive discipline
The stages of progressive discipline generally include things like oral counseling, written counseling, second written counseling, suspension and then firing that employee.

Progressive discipline allows employees to attempt to correct problematic behavior before it gets more severe or before it becomes a termination situation. It provides a sense of fairness both in discipline and in the firing of an employee. People know what’s going on and they’re not feeling like the company is trying to trick them or cheat them. And it provides a good record of the reason for disciplinary action or firing of an employee.

If you’ve got a written policy that governs conduct, that policy should be followed when firing an employee. You want to take a look at those and make sure you’re following your own guidelines. At this point, it’s also important to think about whether the issue has come up in the past and how it’s been handled. Remember, consistency is important.

Edited remarks from the Rapid Learning Institute webinar “Effective Termination Techniques -How to Document Terminations So You Won’t Lose a Lawsuit” by Alyssa Senzel October 24, 2007

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