[aa_subtitle_display]Disciplining employees and correcting bad behavior isn’t fun, but it is necessary to maintain productivity, corporate culture, safety, and a company’s reputation. Dealing with problem employees can be easier when there is a disciplinary policy to follow and progressive discipline programs give employees a chance to understand and change their behavior. Employees can get verbal warnings of the issue and explain their side of the situation before moving on to a written warning that will include a plan for moving forward. This gives the employee the opportunity to change and to clear up any misunderstandings before more serious disciplinary steps like suspension and termination. While it sounds like a great way to work through issues in the workplace, there are both positive and negative parts of such a program.
There are a lot of good things about progressive discipline. As mentioned above, it gives employees the chance to change their behavior. It provides an opportunity for coaching and mentoring so that an employee can grow and improve. Working with employees and giving them chances to change problem behavior will improve employee retention. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, replacing an employee is costly: there is the expense of advertising the job, the time spent on searching, interviewing, and training, and the lost productivity during the search and training. Secondly, employee morale tends to go down when there is high turnover. Getting rid of a toxic employee may be just as important for morale, but having employees know that they won’t lose their jobs for minor infractions will also help to reduce stress.
There are negatives to progressive discipline, but many of them can be avoided with proper disclaimers in an employee handbook. Some employees may expect that the steps of a progressive discipline policy must be followed – this can make them believe that they cannot be fired for their first offence, no matter how serious. Certain offences, like theft or violence, are serious enough to merit termination without any extra chances given. It could make terminated employees believe that they have a wrongful termination lawsuit. The employee handbook should have disclaimers that employment is at-will and state that the policy will not always be followed. This also allows for flexibility in some situations where the next step in a progressive discipline policy may not fit well. Sometimes, it is best to repeat a step to give an employee another chance after a minor infraction. Without these disclaimers, such policies can seem inflexible and a poor fit in some situations. A drawback that can’t be minimized with a great employee handbook is that these policies can be time-consuming. It takes time to develop the policy, to train employees on it, and to complete and document each step. It can be overwhelming in a small business.
When you are creating your company’s employee handbook and discipline policy, it is important to weigh the pros and cons to make sure that the policy you choose fits your company, its culture, and its values. Consider working with a lawyer or a PEO (professional employer organization) to make sure that your company has a legally-sound policy that will protect both the company and employees.