New York Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

New York Discipline: What you need to know

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.
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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.
Courts recognize claims for breach of implied contract based on handbook provisions or an oral promise supported by written documentation that were relied on by the employee (Dicocco v. Capital Area Community Health Plan, 135 A.D.2d 308 (1988)).
More specifically, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has held that the at-will presumption is rebuttable only upon showing that (1) an express written policy limiting the employer's right of discharge exists; (2) the employer made the employee aware of this policy; and (3) the employee detrimentally relied on the policy in accepting employment (Lobosco v. New York Tel. Co., 751 N.E.2d 462 (2001)). However, employers may avoid implied contracts by including a clear and specific disclaimer.
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