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, although they are becoming more common in private employment.
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.
If a disciplinary procedure is promised. While Connecticut courts are fairly conservative in upholding the concept of at-will employment, employers should be extremely cautious about allowing anyone in the organization to make any promises to an employee or applicant. In a number of cases, the state's courts have determined that if an employer establishes a disciplinary procedure to be followed before an employee is terminated, that policy may be considered a contract that must be followed.
However, requiring an at-will employee to sign a corrective action memoranda as part of a progressive ...