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The Mistake of a Business Owner in Using a Progressive Disciplinary Policy

Hypothetical 1:  Sue started Beautiful Endeavors, Inc. fifteen years ago. The company now has five employees. Sue heard that she needs to have a progressive disciplinary policy so she implements one at her business. Then, Sam, an employee, physically assaults Chris, an employee. However, since Sam did not have any disciplinary issues, the policy requires that Sam is provided with a verbal warning.

Hypothetical 2:  Jill has a florist business. She uses an employee handbook from the internet and implements it prior to hiring her first employee. The employee handbook has a progressive disciplinary policy, but the employee handbook also states that the handbook is not a contract. One of Jill’s employees Mark starts coming to work late. She follows the progressive discipline policy and provides him with a verbal warning. Then he comes to work and tells his supervisor to “____ off.” The supervisor tells Mark that he is fired. However, the progressive discipline policy required that Mark was provided with a written warning.

Hypothetical 3:  Bruce owns an excavation company. He implemented a progressive disciplinary policy because he believes it is fair. Two of his employees get in an accident while racing on the job with their bobcats. An innocent bystander is injured. Bruce fires the employees. However, the progressive disciplinary policy requires that one of them receives a verbal warning as it is his first offense, and that the other one receives a suspension because it is her third offense.

Minnesota law does not require a progressive disciplinary policy. A progressive disciplinary policy requires an employer to follow a hierarchy in meting out discipline. Usually a first offense requires a verbal warning. A second offense is a written warning. A third offense is a suspension. A fourth offense is termination (note: there are many different versions of progressive discipline – this is just one example). Although Minnesota law does not require that you use a progressive disciplinary policy, if you have such a policy in a union contract, an employment contract, or as an employment policy, generally, the employer will be required to follow its progressive disciplinary policy.

As a general rule, your discipline policy should allow you to terminate your employee regardless of the offense. It is not possible to draft a policy that includes every single offense that results in automatic termination. It is not uncommon for there to be an offense that you have not thought of that will result in you needing to terminate the employee. A disciplinary policy that allows you to terminate even on the first offense is necessary and best practice.

Spangler and de Stefano, PLLP assists business owners with most aspects related to their business, including employment issues.

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Spangler and de Stefano, PLLP and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as legaladvice and should not be construed as legal advice.