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How to word a policy on progressive discipline

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Every organization has disciplinary concerns at some point in time arising from an employee’s actions which are deemed unacceptable to the employer and which may require some form of discipline to be administered. Generally, employees respect the need for discipline and usually appreciate having a disciplinary process that is deemed to be fair and impartial.

The origin of the word “discipline” means “instruction, tuition”. A progressive discipline policy emphasizes the “corrective” nature of discipline, rather than the punitive side, as it gives employees who are subject to discipline the opportunity to learn from mistakes and correct their behaviour. At the same time, employees have fair warning of the consequences of future disciplinary occurrences.

Depending on the severity of the concern and the number of past occurrences, progressive disciplinary action may call for any of five corrective steps:

  • Informal counselling
  • Verbal warning
  • Written warning
  • Suspension with or without pay
  • Termination of employment

Except for termination of employment, any step of the disciplinary procedure may be repeated more than once, if necessary.

Employers are cautioned, however, that especially with a progressive discipline policy, consistent, fair and impartial application of the policy is crucial. Where an employer fails to do so, complaints of constructive or actual wrongful dismissal may be raised. Courts and tribunals have found discrimination or bad faith in the employer’s conduct where disciplinary policies have not been consistently applied.

So, any progressive discipline policy should focus as much on management’s responsibility to not only apply the policy consistently and impartially, but also to treat employees fairly, with dignity and respect, and for ensuring that employees have been provided with appropriate coaching and assistance throughout the discipline process.

For more compliance information and best practices on the disciplinary process and a sample discipline policy, consult the Employee Relations chapter, sample policy 5.06 in the Human Resources PolicyPro, Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba & Saskatchewan, and Atlantic editions, published by First Reference Inc.

Michele Glassford
Editor of Human Resources PolicyPro
published by First Reference Inc.

Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more
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