When it comes to dealing with problematic employees, an employer’s careless response could increase their liability and result in costly consequences. On the other hand, if an employer is overcautious, they might unintentionally condone the poor behaviour/performance, and minor issues might grow into full-blown dilemmas. The best way to address issues is by establishing a policy on progressive discipline and implementing it consistently.
What is Progressive Discipline?
While “discipline” may be one goal of progressive discipline, the bigger focus is to alert the employee to the problematic behaviour, and for the employee to understand they can and should improve same.
The key elements of progressive discipline are proper documentation, prompt and uniform execution, clear communication of expectations, corrective support, and as the name suggests, a progression of consequences.
After all, firing an employee for their first, non-serious mistake would be a disproportionate response.
Thorough documentation involves documenting not only the misconduct being addressed, but the employer’s response, including any support they have offered to correct the underlying issues, and any disciplinary measures taken.
For the policy to be effective, problematic behaviour should be addressed in a prompt, uniform fashion so employees can clearly understand the employer’s expectations; otherwise, inaction can be interpreted as the employer’s condonation. Failing to apply the policy consistently can also cast doubt on whether the policy is enforceable or create the impression that an individual employee is being targeted.
It is common practice to warn an employee verbally of the issue and what could occur if the employee fails to improve, before progressing to written warnings. Generally, an employee can expect to see written warnings including a final written warning, a suspension, and potentially a dismissal if they do not improve. Make sure that the policy’s progression is clear to employees.
Why Use Progressive Discipline?
Along with avoiding liability as mentioned above, as employers know, it can be expensive to retrain new employees in terms of cost, time, and morale for the rest of the business. The proper implementation of progressive discipline may save an employer from losing an otherwise valuable employee.
Ideally, progressive discipline should be corrective rather merely punitive. This is most easily accomplished by clearly setting out expectations with employees during the disciplinary process and by offering support and constructive criticism to help them improve going forward.
If you are an employer looking to have a progressive discipline policy drafted or updated, or have questions on best practices to implement your policy, or if you are an employee with questions about your disciplinary experience or policy, our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers at Achkar Law would be happy to help you further navigate the topic.
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