Progressive Discipline - Employee/Labor Relations

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Progressive Discipline
Theresa K. Trafford
Southern New Hampshire University
Employee and Labor Relations
October 2011

Abstract

Discipline within the workplace is and has been a controversial subject. With so much at stake, employers and employees have different opinions on types of discipline and the effectiveness of these processes. One largely debated form of workplace discipline is progressive discipline. Should employees be encouraged to rehabilitate in the workplace? Should management be protected against legal action if they are to terminate an employee for unacceptable performance or behavior? There are many different situation and answers to these questions. Progressive discipline has become standard in unionized environments, and is becoming more common in other settings, such as government, hospitals, and high-school classrooms. ((Pinker, S, 2010) Progressive discipline is practice of establishing a series of steps of escalating seriousness and cumulating in the major (termination). (Dad, D., 2011) Within these boundaries lie other steps that are used with progressive discipline. These steps usually include a verbal warning, a written warning with increasing punishment, and a suspension-most likely without pay. The idea of this type of discipline is to give the employee ample opportunity to turn problems around. (Dad, D. 2011) Discipline within the workplace can take place for a number of reasons, and there are times where discipline is appropriate and inappropriate for certain wrongdoing. Infractions of company policy, tardiness, misbehavior, and other misdemeanors are examples of where the use of progressive discipline can be justified. There also may be instances where discipline is not appropriate; arbitrators have drawn a distinction between voluntary and involuntary unacceptable behavior on part of the employee. (Eden, G., 1992) If an employee’s infraction is due to a lack of their personal skills or knowledge, other forms of discipline can be recommended. Also, if the behavior is so serious that it is grounds for immediate dismissal, progressive discipline may not be required. A progressive disciplinary approach combines the concept of stiffer penalties for more serious violations with that of increasingly more serious penalties for recidivism. (Billikopf, G., 2006) When applying a progressive disciplinary approach, there are rules that should be followed to be sure the steps are applied and the treatment is fair. The first thing a manager should consider is that communication is key. There needs to be sure that there is certain understanding between the person applying the rules and the person who is subject to them. The manager should explain the infraction and follow it with a clear statement of the expected behavior. Also, there should be justification of what the next step in the process will be as far as discipline if the violation is repeated. Managers can use the seven steps of just cause to be sure a proposed disciplinary action if firmly and fairly grounded. (Seven Steps of Just Cause, 2007) The University of Iowa lists these steps as: Notice, Reasonable Rules and Orders, Investigation, Fair Investigation, Proof, Equal Treatment, and Penalty. An employee must be able to easily access the rules and regulation of conduct that is expected of them and they should also be periodically reminded of them. Sometimes, this can result in a need for re-orientation, sign copies of receipts of the Employee Handbook, and/or coaching from management. Training is a better approach than taking punitive steps. One reason is that Courts expect employers to “meet people halfway”. Offering employees ways to improve via training not only helps them to correct the problem, but it also shows that the company is a responsible employer that is willing to rehabilitate. (Falcone, P., 2000) Notice is the first and one of the most important steps of progressive discipline. If an employee is not clear on what...
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