As a small business owner, you have plenty of responsibilities. Some of these tasks are unenjoyable because they’re time-consuming or confusing, but there’s one particular job that’s unpleasant for everyone involved: disciplining employees.
Whether it’s a minor transgression or a fireable offense, disciplinary discussions are as important as they are difficult. It’s essential that leadership tackles these issues head-on to address incidents and prevent future problems, but employers shouldn’t go into these discussions without a plan. Thankfully, progressive discipline policies give small businesses the direction they need to appropriately handle these unfortunate situations.
What Is A Progressive Discipline Policy?
Simply put, a progressive discipline policy is a process designed to address and modify actions or behaviors that are unacceptable in the workplace. These steps allow employers to make a good-faith effort to help employees learn from mistakes and give them a chance to meet certain standards. These expectations are spelled out through three core components:
- Definitions – A set of clearly defined definitions and examples of what constitutes as unacceptable workplace behavior.
- Consequences – Thorough descriptions of what how enemies will be disciplined for unacceptable behavior and how these actions can escalate to termination.
- Resources – Details on who employees can go to with any issues, concerns, or questions.
A progressive discipline policy allows employers to address not only conduct concerns, but also performance issues. A good policy gives management clear steps to correct individual and repeat problems, all while documenting these episodes for both the employee and employer. Having this type of policy in place provides multiple benefits for your small business.
You set the ground rules for everyone
A good policy allows your business to make performance and conduct expectations clear and spell out the consequences for not meeting those expectations. This information gives everyone the knowledge they need to meet and exceed working standards.
You collect the necessary information for ending an employee relationship
Termination is not an easy decision. A progressive discipline policy gives employers the means to fairly and objectively make this call by documenting how employees didn’t make the necessary improvements over time and outlining the repeated offenses.
You protect your business
A progressive discipline policy serves as more than just guidelines for improving employee behavior. An existing policy gives businesses evidence to back your decisions if an employee files a discrimination complaint or claims their termination was unfair. That existing document in your employee handbook can play a key role in mitigating risk in the future.
The Four Key Steps For A Progressive Discipline Policy
One of the key parts of any progressive discipline policy are the steps management should take to properly address offending employees. These steps range from initial notification all the way to termination, giving employers the means to both work with employees and document efforts to correct problematic performance or actions.
1. Verbal warning
The first step is to officially inform the employee about what they have done wrong. Meet with the offending employee in a confidential meeting to break down how they either haven’t met performance standards or displayed bad behavior. This conversation immediately sets your expectations and lays out next steps for the employee to recognize the issue at hand and correct it.
While the warning is verbal, it’s still important to document the event to officially put the employee on notice. If possible, have an HR representative in the meeting to provide added support and provide backup. You’ll also want to create a document that includes a few key details:
- When you gave out the verbal warning (including both the date and time of meeting).
- The reason for the warning and what was discussed in the disciplinary meeting.
- The next steps that both sides agreed to during the meeting.
- Who was present in the meeting.
2. Written warning
If a verbal warning isn’t enough to improve performance or curb bad behavior, it’s time to present your concerns in writing. This formal written warning should include details on the policy and specifics on how the individual violated company rules. This document should also include expectations on how to correct the offense, what will happen if the employee is non-compliant, and the date you presented the written warning.
As with verbal warnings, this meeting should be confidential and everyone involved must sign the form acknowledging the discussion. One difference is that you should also give the employee the opportunity to assess their own behavior on the written document. Let the employee know that signing the form isn’t an admission that they agree, just evidence that the discussion took place and that they are accountable for future corrective action. Once everyone on hand signs the form, you can add it to the employee’s personnel file.
3. Final warning
The final warning is very similar to doling out a written warning, except that it should be clear that this meeting is the employee’s last opportunity to comply with expectations.
Once again, present a dated document that restates the policy in question, what they did wrong, and what must be done to correct this behavior. The key difference is that this document should clearly indicate that this meeting is a final warning and future noncompliance will result in the employee’s departure from the company. Once the form is signed by everyone on hand, add it to the same file as the rest of the warnings.
4. Termination of employment
If all three previous steps don’t work, it’s time to let the employee go. Meet with the offending employee and notify them that they’re no longer a part of the company. You should present this individual with a written, dated termination notice and save a copy for the company’s personnel records. Everyone present for this meeting should also sign this document.
This meeting also serves as the right time to wrap up any tasks required to finalize the termination. You’ll need to inform the departing employee about what to expect in terms of receiving their final pay, which can depend on your state’s requirements. You’ll also need to collect and company property from the employee, which can include keycards, laptops, and other items or equipment. Once the employee retrieves any personal items, immediately change any relevant passwords and restrict prior access to company systems.
Improve Employee Performance and Limit Risk with a PEO
Your workers are your greatest asset, but that doesn’t make employee performance management any easier. Everything from creating thorough progressive discipline policies to conducting performance reviews not only takes time, but also has a major impact on your business’ success.
The good news is that you don’t need to take on these responsibilities alone. GMS partners with businesses to take on the administrative burdens associated with managing employees, saving you precious time and protecting. Contact GMS today to talk to our experts about how we can save your time, money, and headaches through professional performance management.