Progressive Discipline or Immediate Termination?
Many companies have a progressive discipline policy in place that is designed to correct problematic behavior by giving employees a reasonable chance to turn around negative conduct. The organization benefits by demonstrating employees are treated fairly, and a progressive discipline policy can help protect against discrimination lawsuits. But in some instances, firing somebody on the spot is a better solution than subjecting them to disciplinary action.
Sometimes Immediate Termination is Best
Employees are usually disciplined for either misconduct or performance issues. The former is usually the more serious offense and may involve deliberate acts of defiance, while inadequate performance can often be traced to poor (or nonexistent) training or a lack of skill.
The typical progressive discipline policy involves three stages: a verbal warning, a written warning and a final warning. By the time an employee has reached the third stage, they are either given suspension without pay for a predetermined period or are terminated.
Most employers are empathetic and want to see their employees succeed; progressive disciplinary action allows them that opportunity. It’s viewed as taking corrective action rather than doling out punishment, and for those employees who value their jobs and are motivated to correct bad behaviors, it’s a great way to prove their dedication. While giving everybody a fair shot is an admirable goal, there are going to be cases in which immediate termination is a better option. Factors to keep in mind include:
- How long the employee has worked for the company
- Past performance and conduct
- Whether the employee was provoked
- Whether the misconduct was premeditated or involved a momentary lack of judgment
- Whether the employee was aware of the rules
- Whether the employee acknowledges the mistake and shows remorse
The most likely grounds for immediate termination involve serious misconduct issues, such as:
- Grossly inappropriate work performance. This might include inappropriate use of company resources, violating rules regarding email and telephone use and chronic attendance issues.
- Endangering the company or other employees. This could involve theft, assault, vandalism, sharing confidential information, violating alcohol and drug policies and bringing weapons or other inappropriate items to work.
- Sexual harassment. Many employers have a zero-tolerance policy regarding charges of sexual harassment in order to avoid potentially damaging lawsuits from victims. A thorough investigation should always be undertaken regardless, and if the accusations prove unfounded, you might consider reinstating employment.
The most important factor to remember in your progressive disciplinary process is to treat everybody equally. Punishment should be consistent, and expectations should be clearly communicated to all new and current employees—especially when rules have been changed or added.