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Your Progressive Discipline Policy

If you decide to implement a progressive discipline policy, you will need to formulate a written policy, even if you do not give it to the employees (and we recommend that you don't).

Business Tools

The Business Tools area contains a package of documents that will help you formulate, administer, and document a progressive discipline program, including a checklist for creating a progressive discipline, a sample policy, and sample forms to help you administer the program.

In creating your progressive discipline policy, follow these guidelines:

  • Tailor the progressive discipline system to the business. Other business's policies may serve as excellent models (including the sample mentioned above), but be sure your policy is appropriate for your business and your employees.
  • Specify which behaviors or infringements of work rules are not subject to progressive discipline (usually these will be serious behaviors that warrant immediate termination).
  • Decide whether to advise all employees of the policy, what your progressive discipline steps are, how the policy is to be applied, and what the policy does not address.
  • Decide how you will maintain documentation (i.e., memos about oral warnings, written warnings, etc.).
  • Decide if documentation will remain in a file forever and, if not, under what circumstances and timing the documentation can be removed and destroyed.
  • Establish a procedure for maintaining the documentation and protecting the confidentiality of the information.

If a suspension is one of the steps in your policy, consider the concept of suspended layoffs - layoffs or suspensions that are imposed on the employment record but are not actually enforced. This allows the next step to be termination but does not reward the employee with time off. In any event, suspensions should not be allowed to be taken with vacation or other paid or unpaid time off, including holidays.

Exclusions from progressive discipline. Behaviors that are commonly excluded from a progressive discipline approach and that subject the employee to immediate discharge might include the following:

  • possessing or consuming non-prescribed narcotics on company property
  • reporting to work intoxicated/impaired
  • instigating a fight on company property
  • carrying a weapon without a business purpose on company property
  • theft
  • intentional harassment, including sexual harassment
  • destruction of property
  • insubordination
  • misrepresentation of important facts in seeking employment
  • violation of confidentiality or sharing of trade secrets outside the business
  • extended unexcused absences
  • gambling on company property

If you exempt these behaviors from your progressive discipline policy, be sure that you act on each occurrence of the behavior consistently. For example, if you specify suspension or termination as discipline for gambling and you do not allow any exceptions, then you must apply that rule to all forms of gambling, including office football pools.



Should you include your disciplinary system in an employee handbook that you give out to workers? Many large corporations do. However, for a small employer, putting these rules in writing for employees may cause more problems than it solves.

If you include them in a handbook, you must be extremely careful of the language used (it's best to have an employment lawyer review it). Also, you must be certain that you follow your own rules to the letter, each and every time an incident arises. If you have only a handful of employees and problems are rare, you may have a hard time remembering what you were supposed to do. Finally, it becomes difficult to fine-tune your system as you gain more experience over time because the first written system you give to employees can create a legally enforceable expectation that it will not change.

For these reasons, we do not recommend that you put your system in writing for employees to see unless you have first consulted your attorney. Just be sure that you (and any other managers in your company) know what it is, and make every attempt to follow it.

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