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    What is Progressive Discipline in Organizations?


    “It is necessary to instill a disciplining program in your small business in order to move forward. An effective regimen will help improve workplace performance and provide a safe and honest environment conducive to production.” – Lisa Mooney.

    Disciplining employees is a challenge and a necessary part of running a successful business. Progressive Discipline serves as a corrective action that helps employees avoid making mistakes or exhibiting unproductive behavior in the workplace. This blog discusses the five steps of progressive discipline and how to use them to correct employee behavior and improve organizational performance. Read on to learn more! 

    What is progressive Discipline?

    Progressive discipline means enforcing workplace standards to correct unsatisfactory work performance or behavior through a series of steps that increase in strictness. The purpose of progressive discipline is to inform employees of their unacceptable work performance or workplace behavior and allow them the opportunity to improve. 

    Five Steps of the progressive discipline process:

    The progressive discipline process encourages employees to resolve performance issues before they become serious. Applying progressive discipline in the workplace sets expectations for employees and provides a consistent, objective, and fair discipline process. A standard progressive discipline process includes five steps, they are:

      1. Verbal Warning
      2. Written Warning.
      3. Final Warning.
      4. Suspension.
      5. Termination

    The intended outcome is to allow employees to self-correct poor performance and to retain a productive workforce. However, sometimes the best outcome is termination. 

    Step I: Verbal Warning

    A verbal warning communicates to employees that their performance or behavior is not meeting expectations or violates company policies. This warning makes the employee aware of the issue and deters them from making the same mistake. The first step addresses problems early, provides feedback, and encourages corrective actions. 

    Step II: Written Warning

    A written warning is intended to formally document and communicate to employees that their performance or behavior violates company policies and is unacceptable. It serves as a more formal step in the progressive discipline process, providing a clear record of the infraction, outlining the consequences of continued non-compliance, and emphasizing the importance of improvement. A written warning helps ensure transparency, accountability, and consistency in addressing employee performance or behavioral issues. 

    Step III: Final Warning

    The purpose of a final warning is to communicate to an employee that their performance or behavior has reached a critical stage, and further instances of non-compliance may result in severe consequences, such as termination. It offers a final opportunity for the employee to understand the severity of the situation, take corrective action, and meet the expected standards. A final warning emphasizes the urgency and underscores the potential outcome if the issues persist. 

    Step IV: Suspension

    A suspension communicates the seriousness of the offense and reinforces expectations for future behavior. Removing the employee from the work environment provides a cooling-off period, giving the employee and the organization time to reflect on what has transpired and assess the situation. The employee may be given one last opportunity to change their behavior or performance depending on the circumstances. 

    Step V: Termination

    Termination is the final action to permanently end the employment relationship due to serious misconduct, repeated policy violations, poor performance, or other valid reasons. It communicates that the employee’s services are no longer needed and severs all ties with the organization, serving as a consequence for their actions and ensuring its integrity. 

    A Discipline Procedures

    Implementing Progressive Discipline, Do’s & Don’t 


    • Clearly state in your discipline policy that you have the right to use any level of discipline and may deviate from progressive discipline depending on the circumstances.
    • Apply the policy consistently, treating employees who commit similar offenses equally unless there are legitimate reasons for different actions.
    • Document reasons for skipping or repeating steps in the discipline process to defend against discrimination charges or breach of contract claims.
    • Keep records of verbal warnings, counseling sessions, and disciplinary actions in employee files to track the discipline process.
    • Connect disciplinary actions to prior warnings and performance reviews, using documentation to establish a clear performance history. 


    • Avoid restricting your ability to bypass progressive discipline in your policy, which could limit your termination rights and affect employees’ at-will status.
    • Do not remove disciplinary actions from employee files after a certain period, as these records are essential for tracking offenses and following the discipline process.
    • Do not conduct disciplinary actions without allowing employees to share their side of the story and document their perspectives.
    • Do not neglect clear communication of expectations, explicitly stating what is expected and providing necessary support.
    • Do not skip steps in the discipline process unless warranted, ensuring that the employee’s behavior and performance justify extreme actions like termination.

    “Other than ensuring protection, an effective employee-discipline code creates a congenial environment in which employees can work. This increases their output, which translates into increased profit for an organization.” – Debopriya Bose.

    Disciplinary action is a vital aspect of business management. Although it may present challenges, progressive discipline provides a structured and efficient method to address undesirable behaviors. Employers must establish consistent standards of progressive discipline for all employees by clearly defining expectations, communicating potential consequences for non-compliance, taking necessary actions when required, and offering available support measures. By following the progressive steps of discipline, employers can maintain their standards while treating their workforce fairly and respectfully.

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