Progressive discipline is a disciplinary model in which the severity of the penalty increases each time an employee commits an infraction. Generally, a progressive discipline scale begins with an oral reprimand, followed by a written warning, suspension, and finally, discharge. In the past, progressive discipline procedures were most often found in collective bargaining agreements and in the public sector, but they have become increasingly common among private employers.
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.