Colorado Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

Colorado Discipline: What you need to know

Progressive discipline is a 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 also found 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, whether or not the policy is written. Employee handbooks, company policy, and oral representations have all been recognized as evidence of an implied employment contract.
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While the Colorado courts are fairly conservative in upholding the concept of at-will employment, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that if an employer establishes a disciplinary procedure to be followed before an employee is terminated, that policy may be considered a contract and must be followed.
Specifically, the Colorado Supreme Court has held that an at-will employee may be able to enforce disciplinary procedures in two ways (Continental Air Lines v. Keenan, 731 P.2d 708 (1987)).
First, the court held that an employer's statements regarding disciplinary procedures must demonstrate the employer's willingness to enter into a bargain in a way so that an employee would be justified in thinking that (1) his or her assent to the bargain was ...

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