It’s great to have a policy on progressive discipline, which helps you salvage troubled employees who can be salvaged, and prepare to terminate those who can’t.

But a progressive discipline policy can cause unexpected fallout if it’s not carefully worded. A bad policy can create an implicit contract that actually makes it harder for you to terminate people cleanly.

The right way
A good policy should:

  • Make clear that at-will status will not be changed by progressive discipline. For instance: “Nothing in this policy is intended to alter the at-will status of employment with the company.”
  • Then restate the at-will policy: “We may terminate an employee with or without cause at any time with or without prior notice.”
  • Assert that you’ll use progressive discipline but still reserve the right to fire immediately. Example: “The company reserves the right to terminate any employment relationship, to demote, or to otherwise discipline an employee without resort to the above disciplinary procedures.”

If your progressive discipline policy is worded like this, it’ll be hard for any disgruntled former employees to argue that you violated some legally enforceable understanding with them when you let them go.

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