Iowa Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

Iowa Discipline: What you need to know

Progressive discipline is a policy in which the severity of the penalty increases each time an employee commits an infraction. Generally, a progressive discipline scale begins with oral reprimands followed by written warnings, suspensions, and, finally, discharge. Progressive discipline procedures are most often found in collective bargaining agreements and in the public sector, 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" employment relationship. First, it can be time-consuming to administer the steps and generate all the accompanying paperwork. Second, a progressive discipline procedure can, under certain circumstances, transform an otherwise at-will employment relationship into a contractual one.
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If a disciplinary procedure is promised. While Iowa 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 and must be followed. This is especially true if the employee relied on the disciplinary procedure. Oral assurances, written policies, and an employer's practice or custom of following a disciplinary procedure before termination may all create a binding contract to follow those procedures.
Employee handbooks. The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that the provisions of an employee handbook or progressive discipline policy may ...

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