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Progressive Discipline Doesn’t Work
LOOK AT ALTERNATIVES

In my humble opinion, progressive discipline just doesn’t work. It takes too long, it’s too costly for an organization and it doesn’t achieve management’s objective which is an improvement in an employee’s performance at work. Surely there must be a better way.

One person described progressive discipline as law enforcement. Do we really want to be workplace police force and as someone steps out of line, we progressively increase the punishment? I realize that many organizations are stuck with this system because of collective agreements or employment contracts. However, keeping an outdated and ineffective system simply because we have always done it that way seems rather ridiculous, don’t you think?

For all the progressive discipline purists out there who think that the only thing wrong with the practice is the practitioners, I suggest you take another look. It’s not just about being consistent or closely following the process. Even if you do it perfectly, it still takes over a year to fire someone. Then an appeal or their lawyer may still get them their job back because they have a “problem”.
Brian W. Pascal
President

Progressive discipline can however still be saved if we can find a way to speed up the process. In my mind, this first means getting rid of the verbal warning and making all warnings part of the employee’s personnel file.

If you have consistently been late for work for six months, you’ve already had your “grace” period. Next time this happens, it’s on your file.

Secondly we need to take a few more chances early in the process if progressive discipline is going to work for management. This may mean having longer probationary periods after employees are hired so that the kinks can be corrected early or we can just let them go without a lawsuit.

It also could be that we simply fire people earlier when it comes to more serious incidents like theft of employer property, funds or sexual harassment. The employee may get a lawyer to fight us later, but chances are that we can work out a deal with the lawyer that costs us less than progressive discipline and an eventual arbitration case.

Should we be looking at alternatives to the cumbersome progressive discipline system? The United States Merit Protection Board, which is somewhat similar to our form of public service commission, looked at this issue in July 2008 and came up with a number of unique and interesting ways to deal with discipline. Not all of them are practical to implement. Many would certainly cause an uproar in a unionized environment, but you must admit they are interesting.

  • Employee donates annual leave to a leave bank or leave transfer program equal to the amount of time that would have been spent on a suspension.

  • Employee performs hours of community service equal to the amount of time that would have been spent on a suspension.

  • Employee performs research on the issue of the particular misconduct to better understand the harm it causes to the work unit and then provides training or a briefing to others to share the knowledge.

  • Employee issues a public apology to individuals affected by the misconduct.

  • Employee agrees to work less desirable duty shifts for a particular period of time.

  • Employee attends an appropriate program approved by the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) (e.g. for misuse of a travel card, the employee attends debt management classes; for shouting at a supervisor or co-worker, the employee attends anger management classes; or for substance abuse, the employee enters a substance abuse program).

  • Employee serves the suspension on a weekend or other non-duty days to enable the agency to continue to use the employee’s services and to prevent a financial impact on the employee.

  • Employee serves a suspension in smaller pieces over the course of multiple pay periods to soften the financial impact.

  • Employee’s suspension is recorded as LWOP so that there will be no permanent record of a disciplinary action.

  • Employee serves a suspension that exists only on paper – no loss of duties or pay, but the record indicates an agreement that the paper will be considered equivalent to a suspension of a particular length.

  • Employee receives a reduction in the number of days to be served on suspension. Alternative discipline should not be used to require an employee to waive any rights in order to obtain a lesser penalty when that lesser penalty was already the appropriate degree of discipline. However, it may be used to reduce the penalty below the level management believed was otherwise appropriate if the employee offers something in exchange, such as an acceptance of responsibility and an acknowledgement that the behavior was inappropriate.

  • Employee’s penalty is held in abeyance. If there is another incidence, the penalty takes effect. If there are no future incidences for the life of the agreement, the penalty will not take effect.

    I would be very interested to hear what you think about this issue.



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