Appendix C: Progressive Discipline

The goal of progressive discipline is to improve an employee’s job performance through increasingly formal feedback. Progressive discipline techniques can be applied to employees, whether contractual or “at will,” and to volunteers. In many cases, the application of progressive discipline is successful in improving employee performance at an early stage. A typical progressive discipline approach includes:

  • Documented verbal warning(s);
  • Written warning(s);
  • Disciplinary probation; and
  • Termination.

Progressive discipline is a flexible approach that can involve other forms of corrective action as well. For example, performance evaluations and salary/wage reviews are opportunities to provide feedback to employees. A written corrective action plan could be developed in conjunction with written warnings or probation. In some cases, it is appropriate to suspend an employee pending investigation or administrative review of an incident.

Each step of progressive discipline should include all of the following elements:

  • Notify the worker of area(s) in which his/her job performance is not meeting expectations;
  • Specify what the worker needs to do to correct the problem(s);
  • Indicate the potential consequences if the problem is not corrected; and
  • Document the intervention, giving a copy to the worker and placing a copy in the worker’s file.

While progressive discipline can be an effective supervisory tool for improving a worker’s job performance, it is not necessary or appropriate to apply progressive discipline in all cases. For example, serious infractions may warrant immediate termination, without prior warnings or counseling. A supervisor may also decide to “skip” one or more stages of progressive discipline based on factors such as the nature and severity of the performance problem and the worker’s history.