New Jersey Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

New Jersey Discipline: What you need to know

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. 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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New Jersey courts have ruled that if a company has a progressive discipline procedure and promises in writing or orally that it will be followed (or performs it with absolute consistency over a reasonably long period), use of the procedure before termination may be considered “contractual” and thus be binding.
Courts may look at several factors to decide whether a policy constitutes a contract. These factors relate to a policy's provisions and the context of its preparation and distribution to employees (Witkowski v. Thomas J. Lipton, Inc., 136 N.J. 385 (1994)).
Specifically, courts may look at whether:
• The policy was pervasive and companywide;
• The pronouncements were an accurate representation of policy;
• The pronouncements were authorized to be made; and
• The employees had a reasonable expectation that the policy would apply to them (Gilbert v. Durand Glass Mfg. Co., 609 A.2d 517 ...

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