structuring warning/termination policy

How does your company structure its warning to termination policy and what documentation do you use for the process? Does general wording about "first step is verbal warning, second is first written, third is final written, last step termination" provide good guideline or develop a formal policy that can't be amended very easily. Example: if an employee gets so upset during a conversation that he/she tells his/her coworker to "fxxk off and get the fxxk out of my face," is that really just a verbal warning?

Our current wording seems to be too vague ("disclipline action may include any of the following: verbal or written warning, suspension, probation, termination, or other action") so I feel as if I'm starting from scratch here.  Thanks in advance for your help. 


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  • I know I've already answered this specific question on another HR forum.  I gave you our specific language verbatim.  The three or four posters after me told you theirs was the same as ours.   It is a very standard type of policy. 

    You can also google "employer discipline policy". Here's a great link to an overview of implementing a progressive discipline policy :   And here is another policy: directly from the Employment Law Information Network.  If these don't help you enough, then I suggest consulting with a local employment attorney.


  • well you don't want to paint yourself into a corner. you want the language to be clear that your company retains the right to decide whatever disciplinary action is appropriate for every situation. for example you want to reserve the right to terminate any employee whose actions are so flagrant that they warrant immediate termination. you don't want to create an "implied contract"
  • Many companies no longer really say much about "verbal" warnings because they are notoriously poorly- or un-documented.

    There are several elements that go into a progressive discipline plan.  Here are some of the high points:

      1. State the disciplinary measures.  Ours are:
        1.  Step 1 documented warning
        2. Step 2 documented warning
        3. Suspension with or without pay
        4. Demotion, pay reduction, or other penalty affecting the terms and conditions of work
        5. Termination of the employment relationship

          We do not generally use 3 or 4 and the language suggests that generally a 3rd violation within the same family of rules will typically result in termination of employment.

          "The disciplinary measures applied in any particular context can depend on many factors.

          Typically, progressive discipline will result in a Step 1 writetn warning for a first offense, a step 2 written warning for a second offense, amd termination of the employment relationship for a third breach of work rules or other unacceptable conduct or job performance"
      2. Reserve the right for management to skip any number of steps.
      3. Restate that employees are at-will and what at-will means.
      4. Include a list of things for which a person's employment may be immediately terminated

        "While it is impossible to list every type of behavior that may be deemed an offesne, this policy includes a list of examples of misconduct that may result in disciplinary action up to and including immediate termination of employment." -- Categories include the following, which are bullet point lists that do not include major policies to which they sometimes refer but are covered separately:
        1. Work performance (e.g. loafing but not the actual production policy for sales people)
        2. Attendance and punctuality (e.g. improper use of the time clock but not the actual attendance policy)
        3. Use of porperty (e.g., use equipment as trained and/or as appropriate, statement against theft, but not the whole of the electronic communications policy)
        4. Personal actions and appearance (e.g., threatening, intimidating, showing up high or drunk but not the drug free or testing policies which are covered separately)
      5. A statement of protection from retaliation

    I would also include a code of conduct policy and in personal actions and appearance, include a reference to breaching the code of conduct.  I've had good results referring to policies from the simplified list because nobody can say they didn't understand the list and it pretty much de-mystifies the wall of smoke and mirrors about alleged confusion in a UI hearing.

  • Regdunlop is right on the money about the implied contract.  In my state, the courts have ruled that having a progressive disciplinary program that says the process is verbal warning, written warning, final written warning, and then termination is basically an implied contract and therefore will make the company's at-will statement invalid.  I am working right now to reword our employee handbook so that it states pretty much what regdunlop said - that we retain the right to decide the disciplinary action appropriate for the situation.  You still need to be consistent with similar situations, but you need to be careful about being too specific in your policy so that you have not created an implied contract.  It really is like walking a tight rope...
  • Termination of employment is the end of an employee’s duration with an employer. These are types of termination as follows:

    1. Voluntary termination

    A voluntary termination of employment is a termination initiated by the employee.

    2. Retirement.

    This may be as a result of the employee’s age (which may vary,
    depending on job type and benefits available following retirement) or
    else an injury, disability, or other medical condition forcing early

    3. Involuntary termination

    An involuntary termination is any termination of employment initiated by the company.

    4. Termination by mutual agreement

    Some types of termination by mutual agreement include:

    • Mandatory retirement. Some occupations, such as commercial airline pilots, face mandatory retirement at a certain age.

    • The end of an employment contract for a specified period of time (such as an internship).

    • Forced resignation.

    Source:  Termination of employment

    Best regards

  • In some states (e.g., Texas), for UI claim purposes, there is no such thing as "mutual".  "Mutual" will be treated as employer initiated.
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