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Guide to Progressive Discipline for Employers

With employees returning to the workplace and the increased chances of implementing discipline, we felt it was timely to review a few key principles on progressive discipline.

Employee discipline is an important component of any employer’s management of its workforce. When done properly, consistently, and fairly, it can help establish clear employee expectations about what is required of them by the policies and regulations instituted in the workplace and facilitate compliance. By the same token, disproportionate, unduly harsh or arbitrary application of discipline against an employee can contribute to a poisoned work environment, create distrust and uncertainty with respect to employer’s expectations, and ultimately lead to costly litigation.

Effective discipline in the workplace can be implemented by:

  • Establishing objectively reasonable standards of employee performance and compliance with policies in the workplace;
  • Communicating these standards to employees at the outset of the employment relationship and at regular intervals thereafter;
  • Training employees and management on how to comply with the standards; and
  • Applying progressive discipline in cases where staff fail to meet these standards of performance or compliance.

The process of applying progressive discipline consists of:

  1. Imposing a less severe penalty for a first offence;
  2. Notifying an employee that further misconduct or violation will result in a more severe discipline action, up to and including termination for cause;
  3. Providing the employee with time and support necessary to meet employer’s expectations of improvement or behaviour correction;
  4. Following through on prior warnings and increasing disciplinary action for subsequent offences; and
  5. Providing the employee in question with a final warning that further misconduct will result in dismissal for cause.

Of course, there are some behaviours that could support jumping to termination for cause for a first offence, such as violence, substantial theft or fraud, harassment, or discrimination. If you are considering termination for cause for a first offence, please call us to discuss the situation so we can formulate a successful termination plan.

Back to progressive discipline.

The key to applying any progressive discipline is to ensure that it is proportionate to what has occurred and is applied consistently and fairly. Determining the appropriate discipline measure to apply in each case may require an employer to conduct a workplace investigation first to fully understand and substantiate what happened and identify any mitigating factors on employee’s behaviour. The objective in applying progressive discipline cannot be to punish or humiliate, but rather to provide the impacted employee with an opportunity to self-reflect and correct their behaviour.

In discipling an employee, employers should be mindful of the reasons behind employee misconduct or non-compliance and clearly communicate to the employee that they are there to help support their improvement by addressing any root causes identified. Clear communication to an employee about the employer’s reasoning and choice of disciplinary measure for a particular transgression is critical, as it will provide an opportunity for dialogue that will hopefully help an impacted employee avoid problematic behaviour in the future.

Seabrook Workplace Law helps employers craft and implement effective workplace policies and regulations, including progressive disciplinary policies. Our lawyers also guide employers through challenging situations to help ensure that the progressive discipline is carried out properly to achieve its corrective objectives, with minimal adverse impact on the workplace and employer’s potential exposure to liability.

Contact your SWL lawyer to talk about progressive discipline