Progressive discipline is the process of dealing with an employee who is not behaving in line with, or falling short of communicated performance standards. The goal with progressive discipline is for an employer to effectively notify an employee that there is an issue with their performance and assist them in resolving the problem.

The following are examples of behaviors that would warrant progressive discipline:

  • Inadequate work quality
  • Harassment or violence in the workplace
  • Excessive lateness
  • Deliberate abuse of company property
  • Falling short of job expectations
  • Constant arguing/fighting with co-workers

Below is a four-step process on how employers can apply progressive discipline in their organizations:

Verbal Counseling

Verbal counseling is typically the first step in the progressive discipline process and should be performed by the manager/supervisor. In this step, the manager should meet privately with the employee to discuss the behavior or performance issue at hand.

Verbal counseling is mostly used for minor issues and considered the mildest form of disciplinary action.

Written Warning Letter

A written warning is used if the manager/supervisor has already verbally communicated the issue to the employee, and it is still unresolved. A written warning should disclose the issue, the date the issue occurred, and the desired performance expected from the employee.

When giving a written warning letter, the manager should meet with the employee face-to-face. In addition to discussing the details of the warning, the manager should also provide the employee with constructive advice to resolve the issue and potentially connect them with external resources if necessary.

It is important that the manager have the employee sign the written warning to indicate they understand the warning. One copy of the warning should be placed in the employee’s file and another copy given to the employee.

Employee Performance Improvement Plan

If the employee has received both a verbal and written warning and the issue is still unsettled, it is time for a performance improvement plan (PIP), as a final attempt to resolve the problem with the employee.

Similarly, with steps one and two, the manager should invite the employee to a private meeting for further discussion on how the issue has not been resolved and to present them with the PIP.

The goal of a PIP, just like with the above steps, is to resolve any issues with the employee and enable them to thrive in their role.


If all three steps have been taken and the issues with the employee have still not been resolved, or a serious issue has occurred during the PIP period, the employer should now consider termination.

Looking to apply progressive discipline in your organization?

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