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Progressive discipline can be a slippery slope for managers, so we have put together a few tips for you. 

First, it is important to understand what progressive discipline is and what it is not. Progressive discipline (even if you call it by another name) is designed and works best when used to open a dialogue between employees and managers, ensure alignment and mutual understanding of expectations, foster consistent practices, and map out a plan to help employees overcome potential barriers to success. So, let’s talk about a few best practices to help managers apply progressive discipline and corrective action effectively!

Your progressive discipline policy should not just create a document trail, nor should it be used as a “manage-out” process. If used in those manners, it can stifle the potential of employees, damage the morale of the team(s), and increase risks for improper employment practices. For these reasons, it is important that you properly train supervisors and managers, and that they have resources (many are free, like the ones linked here from OPM) available to assist them through the process. Legal and HR are also great resources for managers who are navigating the progressive discipline process.

Tips for Success in Managing Progressive Discipline 

  • Be consistent. Administer your progressive discipline policy consistently across your organization. Provide a standard template that your supervisors can use for written warnings (make sure the necessary disclaimers and review/approval processes are included in the template).
  • Be honest. The intent of written warnings is to allow an employee the opportunity to improve, and the employee can’t do that if they don’t know the full scope of your concerns.
  • Be respectful and confidential. Employees and supervisors thrive more when trust exists. While you may not be able to guarantee full confidentiality in all situations, you can make sure employees know that you will respect them and their confidentiality as much as possible. So, reconfirming this for employees can go a long way toward productive conversations. Support, willingness to be open and honest, and a sincere effort to help the employee improve are key.
  • Be prompt. Prepare and deliver written warnings as soon as reasonably possible after you identify a concern. Read any responses filed by the employee in a timely manner, and consult with management, legal, or HR as needed, to determine if the response should alter the discipline plan in place or if you need to provide a response to the employee. 
  • Be methodical. Create a realistic improvement plan. Employees often don’t know how to fix concerns without additional guidance. Follow through with the steps outlined in the warning to the extent possible. Deviations may be justified but you should view them as the exception, not the rule.
  • Be prepared: Train your managers and supervisors on the progressive discipline policy and procedures. Update the policy(ies) and procedure(s) regularly and ensure they reflect the values, intent, and culture of the organization.

Do you need assistance creating and applying your employee relations policies? If so, we can help! Contact us today at

This is not legal advice.