Delaware Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

Delaware Discipline: What you need to know

Progressive discipline is an approach to discipline 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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While many state courts have ruled that specific language in an employee handbook may be an employment contract, Delaware courts have been reluctant to adopt this line of reasoning. As a general rule, Delaware courts have stated that an employee manual that does not set forth the terms, conditions, or duration of employment does not create an employment contract (Bray v. L.D. Caulk Dentsply International, 748 A.2d 406 (Del. 2000)).
Nevertheless, while the Delaware courts have been fairly conservative in finding implied contracts based on employer policies or statements, 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 example, evidence that an employee was disciplined more harshly for similar infractions than his ...

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