Most companies that have a disciplinary process in place use a progressive discipline policy. There are many states that will allow an employer to fire employees ‘at will’, but that is always risky. An employee can claim an unjust termination and take their employer to court and still win a pile of money.
The progressive discipline process is beneficial for two reasons. For one thing, good managers can protect themselves by routine use of these procedures. For another, it provides a structured method for feedback that an employee can use to resolve their performance issues.
The steps for each organization’s disciplinary procedure varies, but in general there are at least 4 steps:
1. Verbal Warning
2. Written Warning
Some companies elect to give up to three written warnings, some choose to give a Letter of Intent to Terminate as a final warning. While progressive discipline procedures vary, the general idea is to give the employee the feedback they need (and deserve) to allow them to get their performance back on track.
This process also ensures being fair with your employees if it is applied to everyone. If you only use these procedures for disciplining employees that you are ready to terminate, it can backfire.
For example, a slow employee that has not been performing well for a long time, but has no documentation in their file regard their poor performance cannot suddenly receive every step of the disciplinary procedure in just a few days. A court would view that as suspicious.
This makes perfect sense and is something that a good manager would address immediately anyways. It serves no one to allow a poor performer to keep working under the belief that they are doing ok. Team morale will suffer, production will suffer, and you will look like an ineffective manager.
Don’t misunderstand, though. Gross incompetence, insubordination, engaging in dangerous or risky behavior at work… all of these and more can call for immediate termination. The progressive system is not a right, but a priveledge.
However, if you are considering terminating employees, it would be wise to implement a strong progressive discipline policy first.