progressive discipline and what you need to know

Progressive Discipline: What You Need To Know

In the Ontario workplace, handling employee disciplinary issues requires a careful approach. One method that is commonly used is called progressive discipline. This process helps employers address problems while treating employees fairly. Whether you are an employer or an employee, understanding how progressive discipline works is essential.

In this blog post, we will look at the ins and outs of progressive discipline in Ontario workplaces, so you can grasp its importance and how it affects everyone involved.

What Is Progressive Discipline?

Progressive discipline is a structured approach that many workplaces in Ontario use to address employee behaviour and performance issues. Instead of jumping straight to severe consequences, like termination, the process involves a series of escalating steps. These steps are designed to help employees understand the problem, improve their behaviour or performance, and ultimately, get back on track. It’s a fair and consistent way for employers to manage issues while allowing employees to learn and grow.

Progressive discipline typically follows a series of steps that become more serious if an employee’s behaviour or performance issues persist. The steps commonly include:

  • Verbal Warning: The first step is often a private conversation between the employer and the employee. The issue is discussed, and the employee is made aware of the problem and the expected changes.
  • Written Warning: If the behaviour or performance doesn’t improve, a written warning is issued. This document outlines the specific issue, the consequences of not improving, and a timeframe for improvement.
  • Performance Improvement Plan (PIP): In more serious cases, a PIP may be implemented. This is a detailed plan that outlines specific goals, expectations, and a timeline for improvement. The employee and supervisor collaborate to create the plan.
  • Final Written Warning: If the problems continue, a final written warning is given. This emphasizes the seriousness of the situation and the potential consequences if improvement isn’t seen.
  • Suspension: In more severe cases, a suspension might be imposed. This is a temporary period away from work, giving the employee a chance to reflect on their actions.
  • Termination: If all other steps fail and the issues persist, termination with cause might be the final result.

It’s important to note that not all situations follow each step exactly, and the severity of the situation can influence the steps taken. The goal is to help employees understand the issues, offer opportunities for improvement, and maintain a fair approach throughout the process.

Facing Progressive Discipline or a Performance Improvement Plan?

Being subject to progressive discipline or a Performance Improvement Plan can be stressful and may impact your career. It’s important to understand your rights and the best way to respond. Achkar Law can provide you with the legal guidance you need to navigate this process. Our consultations are designed to help you understand your situation and explore your options.

What Are the Standards of Progressive Discipline?

To implement effective disciplinary measures in the workplace, employers should start with the creation of reasonable workplace standards and communicate them clearly to employees at the beginning of employment and whenever changes are made. These standards are often written in employee handbooks or policy manuals and should address topics like workplace violence, harassment, investigation procedures, occupational health and safety and consequences for non-compliance. 

To be enforceable in the event of a lawsuit, the employer’s policies regarding discipline should be reasonable and connected to their business objectives. Depending on the industry, employers may be required to have certain policies in writing like those connected to occupational health and safety and the Occupational Health and Safety Act

Best practices to establish enforceable standards of conduct in the workplace include the use of clear language that lists employee responsibilities and includes disciplinary measures that may be taken to correct non-compliant behaviour. These policies should be reviewed regularly to respond to changes in the workplace and should be accessible to all employees, including those with human rights concerns that would affect their ability to review or comply with expectations. These employees should be accommodated to the point of undue hardship

An employer’s disciplinary policies should also describe the investigation measures that would be taken to resolve issues of misconduct or substandard performance.

Why Use Progressive Discipline?

Progressive discipline is used in employment settings for several important reasons:

Fairness and Due Process: It provides a fair and structured process for addressing employee performance or conduct issues. This ensures that employees are treated consistently and that they have an opportunity to correct their behavior before facing more severe consequences.

Opportunity for Improvement: Progressive discipline gives employees the chance to understand what they are doing wrong and improve their performance or behaviour. It can be a constructive method for helping employees meet job expectations.

Documentation: Each step of progressive discipline is documented, which can be essential for legal purposes. It provides a clear record of the employer’s efforts to address and resolve the issue, which can be helpful in the event of legal disputes or claims.

Legal Protection: Following a progressive discipline process can reduce risk for employers from wrongful termination claims. It demonstrates that the employer took reasonable steps to address the issue and allowed the employee opportunities to correct their behavior.

Maintaining a Positive Work Environment: Progressive discipline can help maintain a harmonious workplace by addressing problems before they escalate. It encourages employees to meet expectations and promotes a culture of accountability.

Consistency: It helps ensure consistent treatment of employees. When all employees are subject to the same process, it minimizes the potential for claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.

Cost Savings: Addressing issues early through progressive discipline can be more cost-effective than immediate termination, as it may help retain valuable employees and reduce turnover costs.

It’s important to note that while progressive discipline is a valuable tool for addressing many workplace issues, it may not be suitable for all situations. In cases of serious misconduct or policy violations, employers may need to take immediate action, such as suspension or termination, to protect the organization and its employees. The specific approach to employee discipline should be based on the nature of the problem, company policies, and applicable employment laws.

The Role of an Employment Lawyer in Progressive Discipline

Navigating the landscape of employee discipline can be complex, and this is where an experienced employment lawyer can prove to be an invaluable asset. An employment lawyer specializes in employment law matters, including those related to workplace policies, employee rights, and disciplinary procedures. Here are some ways in which an employment lawyer can provide guidance and support when it comes to progressive discipline:

Expertise in Employment Laws

Employment lawyers possess a deep understanding of employment laws and regulations in Ontario. They can ensure that both employers and employees adhere to these laws throughout the progressive discipline process. This helps prevent any legal complications that might arise from mishandling disciplinary actions.

Reviewing Workplace Policies

Employment lawyers can review and assess the workplace policies and procedures related to discipline. They ensure that these policies are well-drafted, compliant with the law, and provide a clear framework for progressive discipline.

Ensuring Fairness

An employment lawyer can help employers ensure that the progressive discipline process is fair and consistent. They can review the facts of the case, provide an objective perspective, and offer guidance on appropriate steps to take.

Employee Advocacy

For employees facing disciplinary actions, an employment lawyer can act as an advocate. They can review the situation, assess whether the discipline is justified, and help employees understand their rights and options.

Mediation and Negotiation

In some cases, an employment lawyer can assist in mediating discussions between employers and employees. They can help find common ground and negotiate resolutions that are satisfactory for both parties.

Legal Advice

If a situation escalates or legal action is taken, an employment lawyer can provide legal advice, represent clients in negotiations or hearings, and advocate for their best interests.

Preventing Legal Disputes

By guiding both employers and employees through the progressive discipline process, an employment lawyer can help prevent misunderstandings that might lead to legal disputes down the line.

In essence, an employment lawyer serves as a legal guide throughout the complex journey of progressive discipline. Their experience can help ensure that the process is carried out in accordance with the law, maintaining fairness and transparency for all parties involved. Whether you are an employer seeking to navigate discipline issues or an employee facing disciplinary actions, consulting an employment lawyer can provide clarity and peace of mind during challenging times.

Further Reading

Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000: Your Handbook

Performance Management and the Remote Workplace

How To Request Accommodation At Work

After-Acquired Cause in Ontario: What Is It and How Does it Work?


Contact Achkar Law

If you are an employer looking to update your existing disciplinary policies and procedures for your business, or an employee trying to know your rights, our team of experienced legal professionals can help.

Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

Facing Progressive Discipline or a Performance Improvement Plan?

Being subject to progressive discipline or a Performance Improvement Plan can be stressful and may impact your career. It’s important to understand your rights and the best way to respond. Achkar Law can provide you with the legal guidance you need to navigate this process. Our consultations are designed to help you understand your situation and explore your options.