Alabama Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

Alabama Discipline: What you need to know

Progressive discipline is a disciplinary model in which the severity of the punishment 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 problems with having a progressive discipline procedure in an "at-will" relationship. First, it can be time-consuming to administer the steps and generate the accompanying paperwork. Second, a progressive discipline procedure can change an at-will employment relationship to a contractual one. For example, employee handbooks, company policies, and oral representations have been recognized as comprising components in, or evidence of, an employment contract. This means if a company has a progressive discipline procedure and promises that it will be followed, the company should not stray from it or ignore it.
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Alabama courts have been cautious about interpreting oral promises as implied contracts. State courts have said an oral assurance that is not specific or mandatory does not constitute a contract.
Additionally, mere expectations, even if encouraged by an employer's statements, are insufficient in themselves to create a binding employment contract (Sanders v. Liberty National Life Insurance Co., 501 So. 2d 1201 (AL 1986)).
Many employee handbooks provide for formal levels of progressive discipline leading up to discharge. Generally, if such provisions are written in mandatory ...

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