Following the progressive discipline process

The proper steps to workplace discipline

Leah Schatz

Question: What is the accepted standard progression of steps for progressive discipline before reaching the point of dismissal? Are there exceptions to this process?

Answer: Progressive discipline is the process of using increasingly severe steps to correct inappropriate behaviour after an employee has been given a reasonable opportunity to do so. The underlying principle of sound progressive discipline is to use the most appropriate form to correct the type of behaviour that is inappropriate, given the employee’s past disciplinary record. 

Misconduct is deliberate behaviour, where an employee deliberately behaves in a manner he knows is inappropriate. In contrast, performance problems are often a result of lack of training, skills or motivation. Performance problems are often solved through coaching and mentoring, which is not disciplinary. Misconduct requires progressive discipline, and it sometimes leads to termination. 

When an employee is being disciplined, typically the following steps are followed: verbal warning, written warning, suspension with pay and, lastly, termination. After each step before termination, the employee should be given an opportunity to correct the problem or the behaviour. If he does not correct the behaviour, the type of discipline increases in severity and, eventually, termination occurs.

It is important to determine the appropriate level of discipline in each situation and to be consistent. How others have been treated in a similar situation should be one consideration in determining appropriate action, but there are several other factors that should be considered such as the employee’s length of service, his previous record of performance and conduct, whether there was provocation involved, whether the misconduct was premeditated, whether the employee knew the rules and they had been consistently applied and whether the employee acknowledges the mistake and shows remorse.

There are exceptions to the process of progressive discipline. In considering the misconduct and the factors outlined above, it may be that the behaviour has been so inappropriate that it constitutes a fundamental breach of the employment contract. In cases such as this, termination is appropriate, even if the progressive discipline steps of verbal warning, written warning and suspension have not been followed. In all cases of discipline, whether progressive or not, it is important to do a thorough investigation, giving the employee an opportunity to explain his actions. In all cases of discipline, it is important to preserve the dignity of the employee and ensure that he is treated fairly and with respect.

Leah Schatz is a partner with MLT Aikins LLP in Saskatoon. She can be reached at (306) 975-7144 or [email protected].


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