Missouri Discipline: What you need to know

Progressive discipline is a disciplinary model in which the severity of the discipline increases each time an employee commits an infraction. Generally, the progressive discipline scale starts with an oral reprimand, followed by a written warning, suspension, and finally, termination. Progressive discipline procedures are most often found in collective bargaining agreements and in the public employment arena, but they are becoming increasingly common in the private sector.
There are two major issues with having a progressive discipline procedure in an at-will relationship. First, it can be time-consuming to administer the steps and generate the supporting paperwork. Second, a progressive discipline procedure can, under certain circumstances, change an at-will employment relationship to a contractual one.
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Employee handbooks. The state Supreme Court has ruled that an employer's issuance of an employee handbook does not create an employment contract (Johnson v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 745 S.W.2d 661 (1988)). Thus, Missouri courts have been very conservative in finding implied contracts based on employer policies and statements. Nonetheless, if an employer has instituted a progressive discipline policy, it should follow it. Inconsistent discipline, especially when there is a discipline policy, can lead to claims of discrimination and unfair treatment. For instance, a Missouri court of appeals held that an employer discriminated against a female employee by disciplining her more harshly than a similarly situated male employee for the same incident (Buchheit v. Missouri Commission on Human Rights, 215 S.W.3d 268 (2007)).
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