Importance of a Progressive Discipline Policy

October 11, 2022 by Vikki Chaffin

employees reviewing the progressive discipline policy

When determining eligibility for unemployment benefits, state unemployment agencies use the information provided by both employers and claimants. Without proper documentation, agencies will typically determine in favor of the claimant. To prevent this from happening and ensure favorable results when contesting unemployment claims, employers have to track every type of policy violation and be able to prove the claimant was aware of the policy. The employer needs to show that the claimant was warned of prior incidents and knew that their job was in jeopardy before the separation occurred. The most effective way to achieve this is the proper implementation of a progressive discipline policy.

Definition of a Progressive Discipline Policy

A progressive discipline policy is a multi-step process outlining discipline standards for employers to follow, thus helping them to establish structure and predictability to the discipline process and properly document disciplinary actions. It helps employers avoid legal claims and improve employees’ performance with the help of carefully determined steps for overcoming problems related to employees’ conduct or performance that is not meeting a company’s defined standards and policies. Using such a system can be instrumental in resolving work-related issues, such as employment discrimination and wrongful discharge, but also in reducing the number of unemployment claims.

Progressive Discipline Policy Steps

The aim is to provide the structure on which employers may rely to provide consistent discipline. For a typical discipline policy, an employee receives a verbal warning followed by written warnings before termination occurs. Therefore, the policy should include:

  • Verbal warning;
  • First written warning;
  • Second written warning; and
  • Termination.

However, a well-developed progressive discipline policy should be adapted to the needs of the specific employer and allow them the freedom to modify the steps when necessary but also provide the general structure that should be used for most discipline decisions.

Implementing a Policy

Proper implementation can be a critical element affecting the process of contesting unemployment claims. During unemployment hearings, a judge may want to know whether a claimant was aware of their misconduct and whether they were given clear warnings as well as room to correct their behavior. For this reason, employers should properly implement their policy, be uniformly consistent in administering it and use it as a solid foundation during unemployment hearings.

Related: State Required Separation Notices

Taking this into consideration, it is important to provide warnings to employees at the earliest opportunity after a violation is conducted and keep the incident fresh for whoever is preparing the warning. If too much time passes, the state unemployment office may question why action was not taken sooner.

In addition to this, warnings given to employees should be simple and specific and describe the exact behavior related to a particular policy violation instead of listing every minor dissatisfaction. Also, it is equally important that employers explain what policy prompted the warning, why is a written warning the appropriate response, and what may happen if similar future infractions occur.

For a progressive discipline policy to be effective, it should be clear who was present when it was implemented including whether the claimant acknowledged the warnings given. At the same time, to handle an unemployment hearing successfully, it may be useful to have an additional witness.

Furthermore, employers with multiple supervisors or managers face the possibility that they may have different ideas about how and when to discipline employees, possibly leading to harmful consequences. However, having a progressive discipline policy in place can help resolve this and ensure that managers and supervisors not only follow the established policies but follow them uniformly to avoid the payment of unemployment benefits to employees who clearly did not follow the company’s established policies. Moreover, such an approach can also help prevent different groups of employees from feeling mistreated or unfairly managed.

Reducing Unemployment Costs with a Progressive Discipline Policy

Every employer may face unemployment claims but having a progressive discipline policy in place can help them reduce their unemployment tax liability. The key for an employer is being able to prove that they outlined expected standards and possible consequences of misconduct and that they issued enough warnings before terminating the employee.

Also, when determining if an employer has discriminated against an employee, state unemployment agencies investigating the claim will look at how the employer treated employees who engaged in the same behavior. With the help of a progressive discipline policy, employers can demonstrate having a pattern and practice of applying the company’s established policies consistently and fairly. To make a progressive discipline policy successful, employers should tailor it to their needs, and make sure that it is applied consistently to all employees. That way it can become an invaluable tool for managing employees as well as for avoiding and defeating unemployment claims. Another approach that can significantly simplify unemployment claims management is the automation of this process. As a result, employers can rely on a team of experienced professionals and a user-friendly platform designed to reduce the risk, cost and burden of managing unemployment claims.

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