West Virginia Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

West Virginia 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 they are becoming increasingly common in the private sector.
There are two major 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 change an at-will employment relationship to a contractual one. For example, employee handbooks, company policies, and oral representations have been recognized as comprising components in, or evidence of, an employment contract. This means if a company has a progressive discipline procedure and promises that it will be followed, the company should not stray from it or ignore it.
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West Virginia courts have been cautious about interpreting oral promises as implied contracts. State courts have said that an oral assurance must be specific and must be proved to constitute a contract (Sayres v. Bauman, 425 S.E. 2d 226 (WV 1992)).
The burden of proof is on the employee.
Many employee handbooks provide for formal levels of progressive discipline leading up to discharge. Generally, if such provisions are written in mandatory language, West Virginia courts have tended to find that they create contractual rights to the progressive disciplinary procedures.
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