The big idea behind progressive discipline is that it promotes an outcome that everybody has to agree is fair: the employee, the manager, and even co-workers, to the extent that they’re involved.

But what if, at the end of the process — at termination, for instance — the employee being disciplined still doesn’t think it’s fair?

One school of thought would be to respond: too darn bad; we’ve done the best we could by you.

A reason to sue
But this approach may be neglecting an important point: One reason you use progressive discipline in the first place is to avoid giving employees a reason to sue you. (Another, of course, is to help you document the person’s problems so that if they do sue, you’re prepared with a defense.)

With this in mind, employee performance expert Carol Hacker suggests, you might consider going in a different direction: giving progressive disciplinees a final “right of appeal.”

Whoa, you may be saying. Your organization isn’t a court; neither is it a democracy with a right to trial by jury.

That’s not what Hacker means.

Keep it simple
The “appeals process” needn’t be cumbersome. It could be as simple as designating a veteran manager to hear a disciplinee’s beef. Involving a third party helps ensure not only that the decision is fair, but also that it’s seen as fair.

To keep things short, you could limit the time employees have to present their “case” to, say, 30 minutes, and require the referee to make a decision within 48 hours.

Managers may bridle at having their disciplinary actions reviewed in this way, but consider:

Isn’t it worth the extra step to be that much more sure the employee isn’t going to feel hard done by, and want to get a lawyer?

photo credit: sfllaw

1 Comment

  • kirstin says:

    In an envrionment where staff are represented by a CBA, they almost always have some sort of appeal process rights (grievance procedures). It may not keep you from meeting with their lawyers in an arbitration or wrongful termination suite. I would highly recommend having some sort of written procedure before implementing.

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