pexels cottonbro 4820685

Progressive Discipline: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Workplace discipline often challenges both Employers and Employees with conflict and uncertainty. Employees may know that they’re at risk of losing their jobs but don’t always know their rights. Meanwhile, Employers need to be sure of their responsibilities to keep any disciplinary measures as fair as possible. Most of these disciplinary measures in a non-unionized workplace will take the form of progressive discipline.

What Is Progressive Discipline?

Progressive discipline is the process where an Employer imposes increasingly severe disciplinary measures to address perceived misconduct or substandard performance in the workplace. The overall objective of progressive discipline is to enforce workplace standards through rehabilitative measures that deter future misconduct and maintain a fair workplace. 

Progressive disciplinary measures may include verbal warning and an increase in severity up to dismissal for cause. During the disciplinary process, an Employer should maintain a dialogue with the employee regarding expectations and standards to be met. 

What Are the Standards of Progressive Discipline?

To implement effective disciplinary measures in the workplace, Employers should start with the creation of reasonable workplace standards and communicate them clearly to employees at the beginning of employment and whenever changes are made. These standards are often written in employee handbooks or policy manuals and should address topics like workplace violence, harassment, investigation procedures, Occupational health and safety and consequences for non-compliance. 

To be enforceable in the event of a lawsuit, the Employer’s policies regarding discipline should be reasonable and connected to their business objectives. Depending on the industry, Employers may be required to have certain policies in writing like those connected to occupational health and safety and the Occupational Health and Safety Act

Best practices to establish enforceable standards of conduct in the workplace include the use of clear language that lists employee responsibilities and includes disciplinary measures that may be taken to correct non-compliant behaviour. These policies should be reviewed regularly to respond to changes in the workplace and should be accessible to all Employees, including those with human rights concerns that would affect their ability to review or comply with expectations. These Employees should be accommodated to the point of undue hardship. 

An Employer’s disciplinary policies should also describe the investigation measures that would be taken to resolve issues of misconduct or substandard performance. 

How Does the Progressive Discipline Process Work?

Normal escalation processes for progressive discipline require the Employer to bring the misconduct to the Employee’s attention immediately. Depending on the severity of the infraction, the employee is then wared verbally or in writing that further misconduct or performance issues can result in dismissal. These warnings will escalate in severity from a verbal warning, to a written warning, to a final warning and then to a dismissal. 

After giving the Employee a warning, Employers should give the Employee a reasonable opportunity to meet the standards of the workplace and provide assistance or training to do so. In rare circumstances, misconduct can be severe enough to justify dismissal for cause but the best practice is to warn employees of this possibility beforehand. 

Can Employees be Suspended?

Work Suspensions are a severe form of discipline and usually reserved for Unionized Employees if the collective bargaining agreement allows for it. Non-unionized Employees generally cannot be suspended as a disciplinary measure unless their employment contract specifically allows for it, otherwise it is considered a dismissal for which the Employer would be liable. However, suspension with pay while an investigation takes place are not disciplinary suspensions and can be used where the alleged misconduct is sufficiently serious and the investigation policies are provided to the Employee beforehand. 

Overall, both Employers and Employees should document all disciplinary measures and seek competent legal advice when issues arise. Employers should seek legal advice when misconduct or substandard performance might reach the level of dismissing an Employee and Employees should seek legal advice when they are disciplined. 

Contact Us

If you are an Employer looking to update your existing disciplinary policies and procedures for your business, or an Employee trying to know your rights, our team of experienced legal professionals can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800)771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, visit our CLO program page for our strategic solutions. If you are looking for legal support for HR, visit our HR Legal Support page. 

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as or should be construed as legal advice and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call (800) 771-7882 or email [email protected]