Discipline issues

Disciplinary or corrective action is a process of communicating with the employee to improve unacceptable behavior or performance. You may take disciplinary action when other methods such as coaching or encouragement have not been successful. In cases of serious misconduct, you may choose to proceed straight to disciplinary action.

You must meet problems head on – don’t ignore troublesome behavior in hopes it will go away on its own. At the first sign of a problem, start to deal with it by providing immediate correction.

For example, if your new front desk receptionist, responsible for opening the office every morning, is late to work every day during the first week of employment, you would want to provide a verbal warning right at the beginning – explaining the importance of the employee reporting to work at the stated time.

Your HR Partner can help you formulate a plan, and you are required to involve him/her in all disciplinary proceedings.

As a supervisor, it is perfectly natural for you to feel frustrated or angry when an employee repeatedly fails to perform satisfactorily or follow the rules. Keep in mind, however, that most employees come to work wanting to do a good job. Some will require more specific and frequent feedback than others to understand what that means in your work site and in the jobs under your supervision. Frequency of feedback will largely depend on what you observe in the employee’s behavior and performance and on the cycles of the work (e.g., tardiness can be corrected immediately, but it may take days or weeks to complete a particular project or task for your review, or to learn all of the material needed to perform the job).

The concept of progressive discipline does not require that you use all the actions described below, nor does it mandate how many times you may use a specific action. This is not a checklist. These choices are dependent on the severity of the problem and other judgment calls on your part – consult with your HR Partner for guidance.

Remember that the purpose of disciplinary action is to turn performance around by continuing to identify problems, causes, and solutions. If you can accomplish it in a positive and constructive way, you will send a message that you are not out to punish, but to help the employee become a fully productive member of your work unit.

Progressive discipline alternatives

Verbal warning

  • Set a time and place to ensure privacy.
  • Make notes about what you want to say in advance.
  • State clearly that you are issuing a verbal warning.
  • Be specific in describing the unacceptable performance or behavior.
  • Remind the employee of the acceptable standards or rules. If they are available in writing, provide them to the employee.
  • State the consequences of failure to demonstrate immediate and sustained improvement (further disciplinary action may result).
  • Document the verbal warning for your HR Partner.

Written warning

If you give a verbal warning and the problem performance or behavior persists, a written warning may be effective.

  • Your HR Partner can help you write the warning memo.
  • State clearly at the outset that it is a written warning.
  • Describe the performance problem(s) in very specific detail.
  • Outline previous steps taken to acquaint the employee with the issue (coaching sessions, performance appraisals, previous disciplinary actions) and attach copies of any documents to which you refer.
  • Describe the impact of the problem (safety issues, need to reassign work).
  • Reiterate your expectations regarding behavior and/or performance.
  • Note that if the employee doesn’t demonstrate immediate and sustained improvement, the consequence will be further disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.
  • Deliver the warning memo to the employee in person in a coaching/disciplinary meeting that includes your HR Partner, or provide a copy of the warning memo to your HR Partner.

Disciplinary administrative leave

This is normally the final step in progressive discipline that may be included in a final written warning after other written warning(s) have failed to resolve the issue, or if the employee’s behavior/performance is egregious enough to merit suspension. Most suspensions are unpaid. You cannot take this action without authorization from central HR Administration.

  • Suspension typically prevents work for one to ten working days.
  • Length of a suspension without pay will be influenced by the performance issue(s).
  • The final warning memo issuing a suspension must include effective date of the suspension and exactly how many days it will last. It also must describe the problem, previous corrective measures, impact of the problem, your expectations, and consequences of failure to improve.


This action involves movement of an employee to a lower level position and is an alternative to dismissal. (Note: A demotion is a disciplinary action; a downward reclassification is not a disciplinary action.) This action also requires authorization from central HR Administration.

  • Demotion is most often appropriate in cases of inadequate performance of responsibilities at a particular level, rather than violation of work rules. It should be based upon a reasonable expectation that the employee will perform successfully in the lower classified position. For example, did the employee previously hold a similar position, and did s/he perform satisfactorily?
  • Your notice memo and process are quite similar to those used for a suspension.


This alternative is normally selected after performance counseling and progressive discipline have failed to correct the problem.

In certain extreme cases, the offense may be so grave that progressive discipline is not necessary; but in almost all cases, an investigation must take place before dismissal.

Only central HR Administration can authorize any dismissals.