Pennsylvania Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

Pennsylvania 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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Many employee handbooks provide for formal levels of progressive discipline leading up to discharge. However, the Pennsylvania courts have said that a disciplinary procedure does not impose contractual duties on an employer unless the procedure states that the policies are not just guidelines, but create contractual rights.
This means that an at-will employment arrangement can be altered by an implied contract only if the employee can provide clear evidence that the employer and the employee intended to form a contract (Rutherfoord v. Presbyterian-Univ. Hosp., 612 A.2d 500 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992);Donahue v. Federal Express Corp., 753 A.2d 238 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2000)).
Nevertheless, if an employer has instituted a progressive discipline policy, it should follow it. Inconsistent discipline, especially when there is a discipline policy, can lead to claims of discrimination and unfair ...

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