ins and outs of progressive_2Now that we have dealt with why progressive discipline is necessary, let's talk about how to implement it into your practice. Paul Falcone's book, "101 Write Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems," is a great resource for this and provides detailed examples and the logic behind them for many situations.

In a nutshell progressive discipline procedures should generally include a few things:

Be progressive. I know this seems obvious, but you need to have clear steps and consequences that gradually become more severe the further you move into the process. Most procedures start off with a verbal warning followed by written warning if the employee has not significantly changed their performance. If the employee continues down that path, a performance improvement plan may be assessed – followed by termination if the plan doesn't show any progress. You need to check out your state's laws and consult with a labor attorney before you put anything in place. Many times your insurance company will provide a certain amount of legal counsel as part of your annual fees, but you should check with your broker to find out if you have this benefit.

Document everything. Verbal warnings or discussions are good to have with the employee, but they will not hold up in court. If you deal with a specific issue that needs to be addressed, document it in an email and summarize the conversation and expectations going forward. This documentation should be printed out and placed in the employee's folder. If there have been multiple smaller issues that have built up, be sure to document them as accurately as possible with dates and instances. In addition to the legal protection, this reinforces what employee is responsible for and ensures that there is no miscommunication.

If termination is a potential consequence, let them know. This would be further down the line but be sure to include the phrase consequences up to and including termination. I once lost an unemployment case of an employee that was visiting inappropriate websites on a company computer in a retail store because we did not specifically tell the employee that those actions could result in termination – even though we had a policy saying that was not okay.

Give a timeline and metrics for improvement. When you do this the employee is clear on what is expected of them and they will either improve or start looking for a job. If the latter happens, you need to follow the voluntary termination best practices listed in an earlier article.

When you get to the written warning or performance improvement contract phase, give them a space to refute the claims. It is also important that you make sure they sign off on the document after they receive it. If you go to court, this document shows that this was not a one-sided conversation and serves as proof that they were involved in those conversations. It also gives you one last chance to air misunderstandings and possibly save the employment relationship. Remember, it is almost always in everyone's best interest to encourage the employee correct their performance and do a great job. It is your job as the owner to do what you can, within reason, to help that.

Ideally, none of this will ever have to be used and you will make great hires who will help you build a great practice. However, by taking a few simple steps you can take proactive strides to protect your practice.

Adam McWethy, MA-HRIR, SPHR, is the Human Resources Manager for Spear Education.
Adam McWethy, MA-HRIR, SPHR, is Human Resources Manager for Spear Education. - See more at: