Progressive disciplinary systems usually include a range of disciplinary measures, including two or more of the following steps:

  1. oral and written warnings;

  2. probation;

  3. suspension with or without pay;

  4. disciplinary pay cuts (it is best to make this a token amount of one or two per cent - do not impose such a cut without a prior written warning - give notice of the cut in writing in order to reduce risk of a wage claim);

  5. demotion or reassignment;

  6. final warning; and

  7. discharge.

Documentation is very important for use in justifying a personnel action and defending against claims and lawsuits. Keep the following in mind:

  1. The employee should get a copy, and a copy should go into the personnel file.

  2. Have the employee or a witness sign and date the warning, and have a company representative sign and date it as well.

  3. The warning should clearly let the employee know what the next step will be if the problem continues.

  4. The employer should follow its own policy and prior warnings as closely as possible, unless there is a compelling reason not to do so; do not issue warnings until the company is ready to take action and mean it; warnings that are not enforced are even worse than completely ignoring a problem.

  5. Do not issue a "final warning" until and unless the company is ready to terminate the employee upon the very next occurrence of the problem that caused the warning to be issued - sample wording:

    Final Warning

    On __________, you were given a written warning concerning excessive personal phone calls while on duty. You were told that while the company allows personal phone calls for emergency reasons, such calls do not include conversations lasting several minutes with friends and family. We reminded you that your coworkers have to shoulder the burden of extra and unnecessary work when you make yourself unavailable to do your job by talking on the phone under such circumstances. Since that time, you have been observed on ____ occasions engaging in personal conversations on the phone while on duty, which is in violation of your previous warning.

    This is your final warning. There will be no further chances given. If you violate the Company's phone call policy again, you will be subject to immediate dismissal from employment. We sincerely hope it will not come to that, but you must understand that you have arrived at this point by your own actions, and it is only by following the phone call policy that you will be able to remain employed.

    I understand that my signature on this form does not necessarily mean that I agree that I did anything wrong, but rather only that I have seen this warning and have had it explained to me.

    I agree: _________________    I disagree: _________________*

    Date: _________________

[* Note: regarding why it might be a good idea to include the "I disagree" signature line, see "Refusal to Sign Policies or Warnings".]

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