Understanding the four stages to progressive discipline is the first step when designing a performance management policies for an employee handbook. 

The four stages to progressive discipline include: 

  1. Verbal warning
  2. Written warning
  3. Suspension
  4. Termination 

The First Stage of Progressive Discipline: The Verbal Warning

The first step in a progressive discipline process is to issue a verbal warning to an employee at the first infringement. Make sure that the warning includes facts such as time, place and a brief description of the issue to be corrected and what correct or acceptable behavior looks like. 

Allow the employee an opportunity to provide an explanation. Only a brief note including the time, date, location and a brief description of the issue is noted in the file so that there is a record should the unacceptable behavior continue. At this stage of the process it is important to explain all four stages to the employee so they are aware of the consequences should the behavior continue. 

The Second Stage of Progressive Discipline: The Written Warning

The second stage of a progressive discipline process is to issue a written warning. A written warning is the documentation of the continued behavioral infringement. As with the verbal warning, the written warning needs to include the time, date and location of the incident(s) and the details of what was discussed during the verbal warning. 

The employee should be given an opportunity to respond by explain their side of the story in writing. A copy of the document, signed by both the employee and the supervisor, should be given to the employee as well as included in the file. Both the employee and the employer should state a clear SMART goal so that an improvement can be measurable and time phased. 

The Third Stage of Progressive Discipline: Suspension

The third stage of the progressive discipline process is a suspension. At this stage in the process, the verbal and written warnings have not worked proven by a repeat of the inappropriate behavior. Again, there should be careful written documentation of the rationale for this warning including all times, dates and descriptions of previous incidents and warnings and signatures of the employee and supervisor should be collected. The length of the suspension should be clearly stated in the written documentation. Some progressive disciplinary policies include suspensions with pay and then without pay if the behavior continues. 

The Forth Stage of Progressive Discipline: Termination

The forth stage of the progressive discipline process is termination. At this stage, the employee has received at least three warnings and the behavior has not improved. Full details of the previous stages should be included in a final report that details the rationale for the termination. A copy of the final report is kept in the employee’s file. The employee is given a copy of the final documentation and is escorted from the building. 

A basic understanding of a progressive discipline process is needed before HR policy can be written in an performance management section in an employee handbook or manual. 

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