Terminating an employee always comes with risk, even when it’s done for valid reasons. You can reduce this risk by using progressive discipline. As its name suggests, the process involves a progression of disciplinary actions with escalating consequences. It can also demonstrates good faith, as it’s primarily used to give employees with behavioral or performance problems time and opportunity to improve. And if the process results in termination, you can show the termination was for cause.
Part 1: How Progressive Discipline Works
Progressive discipline generally begins with a conversation. It’s meant to make the employee aware of the poor performance or behavior. Often this conversation will be part of your regular coaching or check-ins, and some HR professionals view this as a step before actual progressive discipline. You make the employee aware of their unsatisfactory behavior or performance, make your expectations clear, give them any guidance or tools available to help them succeed, and allow them to bring their concerns to your attention.
If the employee fails to improve after coaching, the next step is to give them a verbal warning and let them know additional discipline may follow if they don’t improve.
The next escalation is usually a written warning, signed by the employee. This is also the point at which you may want to consider a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which is essentially a formalized action plan for employee improvement. A PIP is typically at least 60 days, has commitments from both the employee and management, and contains realistic, attainable goals. PIPs generally make more sense in situations where an employee is having performance issues rather than behavioral issues; for instance, giving an otherwise good employee 90 days to improve their typing skills makes sense, whereas giving someone even 30 days to stop sexually harassing their co-worker does not. Whether you give a simple written warning or implement a PIP, make sure you are perfectly clear as to what will happen should they fail to improve or modify their behavior.
If the problem isn’t resolved after a written warning or PIP, stay true to your word and proceed to the next step, whether that is another written warning, a final written warning, suspension, or termination.