University Human Resources
- Definition and guidelines of progressive discipline
- Essential elements of each progressive discipline step
- Typical progressive discipline steps: oral, written, suspension, termination
- Key points of personnel policy manuals
Progressive discipline is the process of using increasingly severe steps or measures when an employee fails to correct a problem after being given a reasonable opportunity to do so. The underlying principle of sound progressive discipline is to use the least severe action that you believe is necessary to correct the undesirable situation. Increase the severity of the action only if the condition is not corrected.
Some guidelines to consider are:
- Thoroughly investigate the situation which includes obtaining the employee's explanation or response prior to administering discipline.
- Document the process and results of your investigation.
- It is acceptable to repeat a step if you feel that it will correct the problem. This may be the case if some time has passed since it was last necessary to address the issue and the situation has only recently reappeared. Or perhaps, the employee misunderstood or you feel there is value in doing it again in a clearer fashion. If repeating the step works, the situation has been resolved without escalating it unnecessarily. However, be aware that an employee may be led to believe that nothing worse will happen if you continually repeat a step. If repeating a step does not resolve the problem, you can then move on to a higher step.
- The goal is to modify the unacceptable behavior or improve the performance. The goal is not to punish the employee but to more strongly alert the employee of the need to correct the problem.
- There is no rigid set of steps nor is there an inflexible rule that all steps must be followed before terminating an employee. The circumstances of each case and your judgment as to the least severe action that is necessary to correct the situation will help determine which step to use.
- Early, less stringent, measures are skipped for serious offenses such as theft, fighting, drug or alcohol use or sale. All steps are typically used for attendance or general work performance problems.
- While usually unnecessary, it is acceptable to have a witness or note taker present when meeting with the employee during the progressive discipline process. Your witness/note taker should never be a peer of the employee. university policy permits the employee to have a witness if he or she wishes.
- Human Resources is available for consultation at any step of the process, but it is especially important at the steps of suspension and termination.
Disciplinary actions are often overturned completely or reduced to a lesser level when any of the essential elements of progressive discipline are missing.
- The employee is explicitly informed of the unacceptable behavior or performance and is given specific work-related examples. It is not sufficient to assume that the employee knows what the problem is.
- Explain acceptable behavior or performance standards and give the employee reasonable time to comply. This may be a longer time frame if a skill needs to be learned or a shorter time frame if it is a behavior to be changed.
- The employee is informed of the consequences of failing to comply. This is not a threat, rather it gives the employee reasonable expectations of the consequences if change does not occur.
These three essential elements need to be present at each step of progressive discipline and are discussed prior to taking disciplinary action.
- Conduct the whole counseling session in a "low-key" manner. Be friendly, yet firm.
- This discussion should be done in private. Tell the employee the purpose for the discussion. Identify the problem.
- Try not to be mechanical or read from a piece of paper. Have documentation available to serve as a basis for the discussion.
- Seek the input from the employee about the cause of the problem.
- Where possible jointly identify a solution to the problem; otherwise, identify your desired solution.
- Clarify the employee's understanding of your expectations concerning the situation.
- Let the employee know that possible disciplinary action may follow if the problem is not corrected.
- Try to get a commitment from the employee to resolve the problem.
- Schedule follow up with the employee. Provide feedback. Let the employee know how he/she is progressing on solving the problem.
Counseling sessions are used to bring a problem to the attention of the employee before it becomes so serious that it has to become part of a written warning and placed in the employee's file.
The purpose of this discussion is to alleviate any misunderstandings and clarify the direction for necessary and successful correction. Most "discipline" problems are solved at this stage.
If some progress is seen, this counseling step can be repeated to allow the employee full opportunity to correct the problem.
It is not necessary to document the counseling session as it is considered an informal step in progressive discipline. However, a brief statement confirming the subject matter discussed and the agreed upon course of action to correct the problem can be noted in a short memo to the employee.
- Initiate this step by repeating the process used in the counseling step, i.e., talk before preparing any written action.
- After this discussion, prepare the written warning. Build in information, responses, and commitments made in the discussion.
The written warning will have three parts:
- A statement about the past, reviewing the employee's history with respect to the problem.
- A statement about the present, describing the who, what, when, etc. of the current situation, including the employee's explanation.
- A statement of the future, describing your expectations and the consequences of continued failure.
- The warning is addressed to the employee.
- This step may be repeated with stronger consequence statements. Examples range from a statement that failure to correct this situation "may lead to further disciplinary action" to a statement that "this is a final warning and failure to correct the problem will lead to discharge."
- See the Sample written warning memorandum
- On the Bloomington campus this step is not a part of the "Corrective Action" policy for Support Staff or Professional employees except for infractions of safety rules of major significance. For these groups of employees a final written warning is used instead of the suspension step. If you are on another campus, contact your campus Human Resources Office to clarify usage of suspension without pay on your campus.
- When suspension without pay is used, see the sequence described under the counseling section. Again, the situation is discussed with the employee first. The employee's explanation is obtained and, then, a decision is made about the appropriate disciplinary step.
- The length of the suspension is not as critical as the step of suspension. One to three days emphasizes the seriousness of the situation. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Professional employees must be suspended in week long (40 hour) blocks of time.
- The written record of the suspension is prepared after the discussion with the employee. It specifies the start and end dates, emphasizes that it is a final warning, states the reason, and is given to the employee at the start of the suspension so that the reasons for not working are clearly understood.
- This is the last step of any progressive discipline system and is used when earlier steps have not produced the needed results.
- A discussion with the employee must occur before a final determination is reached. Inform the employee about the nature of the problem. See sequence described under counseling.
- The employee must be given an opportunity to explain his or her action and to provide information.
- If the employee takes this opportunity, you must investigate where appropriate and give consideration to the information provided.
- A written notice of termination is prepared after the discussion and consideration of all available information.
For Professional employees and Support Staff not represented by a union, see the Corrective Action policy.
Key points of Policy
- Suspensions without pay of five work days are used only for infractions of safety rules of major significance. Final written warnings are to be used for all other infractions.
For Support Staff at Bloomington and Northwest, see Policy 6.3.
Key points of Policy
- Final written warnings are used in lieu of suspensions
- The employee may have a representative present during the discussion
- A twelve month limit exists on old discipline. The policy provides that if there has not been a corrective action for an offense of a similar or related nature in the interim, corrective action reports which are twelve (12) months or more from the date of the current offense will not be used for the purposes of imposing additional corrective action on an employee.
For Service Maintenance employees at Bloomington, Indianapolis, and South Bend, see Policy 8.1.
Key points of Policy
- Suspensions without pay may be used or a final written warning may be substituted.
- A supervisor is expected to notify the employee of a workplace problem within ten days of its event or of the time that the supervisor reasonably became aware of it.
- A twelve month time limit exists on old discipline. The policy provides that after twelve (12) months, any Staff Incident Report in an employee's file cannot be used to support disciplinary action. Any Staff Incident Report dealing with attendance problems will be removed from the files after one year.