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Human resources managers know underperforming or problematic employees can be a drain on your business. Instead of simply showing such workers the door, however, it is important to minimize your risk to litigation and other woes by using progressive discipline.

Taking the easy path and simply showing them the door—no write-ups, no meetings—might look appealing. This especially the case for small businesses. Operations with fewer personnel often find themselves short on staff to guide through performance improvement plans—and short on patience when it comes to a staffer that drags down morale or the bottom line. Avoid that temptation, though, and you’ll avoid the time-consuming and costly headache that comes from wrongful termination litigation and other legal snarls.

Even if it’s for good cause, terminating a person’s employment always comes with risk. There’s always a chance the fired employee might make it rough for you by claiming they were canned for an illegal reason, such as gender or racial discrimination. Progressive discipline might take some time and resources, but it provides protection from litigation and other troubles.

Terminating employment always comes with risk, even when it’s done for good cause. A terminated employee might own up to their mistakes and understand the basis for their termination, but they might also cause trouble by claiming they were terminated for an illegal reason. This is where progressive discipline comes in handy. Follow these steps to help maximize benefit to your company, and to keep risk to a minimum.

Have a conversation

Connect with the employee in question to identify and address the behavioral or performance issue. This could be part of a regular or pre-scheduled performance review, or it could be a separate event. Whatever the case, it’s important to make it crystal clear to the employee why you’re less than 100% happy with them. If appropriate, offer advice or direction on improving their performance, or nipping the troubling behavior in the bud.

Issue a verbal warning

If the word to the wise and performance coaching didn’t do the trick and the issues have continued, it’s time for another, more stern advisory. Let them know the company is still concerned about their performance, and advise them clearly that continuing down that road will lead to serious consequences (including, possibly, termination).

Share a written warning

If the employee hasn’t improved at all (or enough), it’s time to issue a written warning. Again, make the reasons for the written warning clear—and have the worker sign the document, proving they’ve been told the reason for the warning.

Serious consequences

If after all those meetings and warnings the employee still misbehaves or performs below expectations, it’s time to get real. This could be a final written warning, suspension or—because at this point they’ve been given plenty of chances and communication—termination.

Showing an employee the door might be one of the hardest parts of an HR manager’s job. However, through progressive discipline, you can give underachievers a chance to turn things around—and, if they don’t, a risk-reduced way to terminate them. Contact Human Elements if you’d like some advice.