Progressive discipline is a disciplinary 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. In the past, progressive discipline procedures were most often found in collective bargaining agreements and in the public employment arena, but they have become increasingly common in the private sector.
There are two major issues with having a progressive discipline procedure. 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. At the same time, however, following the steps of a progressive discipline policy can be useful in proving that an employee was terminated for just cause and was not discharged in violation of state law.