Tennessee Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

Tennessee Discipline: What you need to know

Progressive discipline is a disciplinary model in which the severity of the punishment 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 are also common in the private sector.
There are two potential problems with having a progressive discipline procedure in an "at-will" relationship. First, it can be time-consuming to administer the steps and generate the accompanying paperwork. Second, a progressive discipline procedure can, under certain circumstances, change an at-will employment relationship to a contractual one.
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Employee handbooks. Tennessee courts generally will not find that an employee handbook created an implied contract, except in narrow circumstances.
In order to constitute a contract, the state appellate court has held that the employee handbook must contain specific language showing the employer's intent to be bound by its language. If a disclaimer or other wording in the handbook preserves a unilateral right on the employer's part to alter or modify handbook content, the handbook is not considered an employment contract. The court has also said that if a progressive disciplinary procedure is described in a handbook, it could create contractual rights for the employee to perform such procedures, but again, only if the employer shows intent that it be binding (Rose v. Tipton County Public Works Dept., 953 S.W.2d 690 (1997)).
Nevertheless, even a disclaimer or a reservation of rights does not ...

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