The progressive discipline guidelines are designed for university leadership, managers, employees and human resources personnel to use in conjunction with the Working @ VCU: “Great Place” HR Policies in the implementation of the progressive discipline process for VCU University and Academic Professionals. The objective is to provide a common understanding of the purpose, methods, and procedures involved in progressive discipline within the performance management process at VCU. See also: the Progressive Discipline Infographic which explains VCU's progressive discipline process, or the progressive discipline side-by-side infographic, which explains the difference between the progressive discipline process for Classified staff and University and Academic Professionals.
Definition of progressive discipline
Progressive discipline is a process that generally includes a series of increasingly severe employment actions that address employee performance or conduct, typically beginning with counseling and potentially leading to further disciplinary actions, up to and including dismissal.
Importance of the progressive discipline process
The performance and conduct of employees are evaluated by managers as set forth in the performance management section of the Working @ VCU: “Great Place” HR Policy. Where issues arise concerning employee performance or conduct, the university uses, whenever possible, a system of progressive discipline to respond to the issues raised. The steps in the progressive discipline process are intended to foster productive working relationships and to resolve conduct issues at the earliest and least confrontational stage, whenever possible.
The manager’s responsibility in this process is to identify the issues, address the concerns and provide constructive guidance to the employee in an effort to promote a healthy and productive work environment.
If the behavior escalates, performance concern continues, or if the initial concern warrants, a verbal warning is provided, documented in writing, and placed in the employee’s personnel file.
Manager should consult with HR and develop a discussion outline that includes what caused the verbal warning, the actions the employee needs to take to correct the behavior/performance issue, and a timetable for the action to be corrected.
Examples include tardiness; poor attendance; use of obscene language; disruptive behavior; unsatisfactory work performance.
Verbal Warning Discussion
Conduct the discussion in private.
Explain the purpose for the meeting.
Identify the behavior/performance issue and cite specific incidents/examples.
Reference the previously communicated counseling, if behavior/performance issue is related.
Describe how the behavior/performance issue has impacted work operations.
Request input from the employee regarding the reason the behavior/performance issues are occurring.
Explain your expectations concerning the situation to the employee and clearly state that this is a verbal warning.
Manager should develop a Notice of Needs Improvement to follow the verbal warning
Re-evaluate skillset and identify steps the employee needs to take to improve behavior/performance.
Include a timeframe with a specified date for the employee to have the behavior/performance resolved.
Ensure that the employee understands and agrees to comply with ongoing expectations.
Make sure the employee understands the consequences of continued inappropriate behavior/inadequate performance.
Manager documents and forwards a copy to the HR professional to be placed in the personnel file with VCU Human Resources.
A copy of the documentation of the verbal warning should be issued to the employee.
Recurring offenses may be escalated to a written warning.
The life of a verbal warning in an employee’s personnel file is up to the discretion of the issuing department, in consultation with VCU Human Resources.
If the behavior or performance concern continues, or if the initial concern warrants, a written warning may be appropriate. Due process must be presented to an employee prior to a written warning being issued.
Consult with your HR professional for guidance before preparing the written warning.
Manager may issue a written warning for performance or misconduct issues that the manager considers too serious for a verbal warning.
Examples include failure to follow supervisor’s instructions or comply with written policy; violation of a safety rule or rules (where no threat of bodily harm exists), leaving work without permission, failure to report to work without proper notice; unauthorized use or misuse of state property; refusal to work overtime.
A written warning may follow a verbal warning for previously addressed performance or misconduct issues.
A written warning is addressed to the employee as a memorandum and should include the following:
Clearly state the performance concern and/or issue.
If there has been a prior verbal warning concerning the same or similar issue(s), that fact should be recorded in the written warning, with the previous verbal warning attached.
Expectations for behavior and/or performance improvement.
Goals and timeframe for meeting performance expectations and/or performance improvement.
State the consequences for continued poor behavior and/or performance.
Manager meets with the employee to deliver the memorandum and discuss the details of the written warning.
Employee is given the opportunity to respond during the meeting and asked to sign the written warning, acknowledging receipt. If employee refuses to sign, the manager indicates the same on the written warning before sending it to the HR Professional.
Manager documents and forwards a copy to your HR Professional to be placed in the personnel file with VCU Human Resources.
An employee who receives three written warnings during an 18-month period may be dismissed. (Consult with VCU HR Employee Relations before doing so.)
Depending upon the severity of the initial written warning, an employee may also be dismissed immediately (see Dismissal section this guideline).
A written warning is retained in an employee’s personnel file.
Imposed probation is typically issued after a written warning or an unsatisfactory performance review, and can be a result of a behavior and/or performance issue.
Behavior and/or performance issues may result in an imposed probation.
Manager must have approval from VCU HR Employee Relations and the manager’s manager in order to implement Imposed Probation.
Manager should prepare the Notice of imposed probation form to include:
Documentation of the behavior and/or performance issue that has caused this type of discipline.
The length of the probationary period (i.e., 30, 60 or 90 calendar days)
The manager’s expectations for the employee during the imposed probation (i.e., training, counseling, mentoring). The manager should also identify any action(s) he/she plans to take to assist the employee in meeting these goals.
Clearly stated consequences if the employee fails to correct the poor behavior and/or performance issue, or does not meet the agreed upon expectations at the end of the proposed probationary period.
Manager should meet with the employee to present the Notice of Imposed Probation, allowing the employee the opportunity to respond. Summarize the discussion and the expectation for improvements to be made by the employee.
At the end of the meeting, the employee is asked to sign the Notice of Imposed Probation, acknowledging receipt. If the employee refuses to sign, the manager indicates the same on the Notice of Imposed Probation, and sends the original to the HR Professional to be placed in the personnel file with VCU Human Resources.
Manager should conduct periodic follow-up meetings with the employee during the imposed probation and at the conclusion of the imposed probation.
Employees who fail to meet the expectations set forth in the Notice of Imposed Probation during the probation period may be dismissed or face further disciplinary action. (Consult with the HR Professional and VCU HR Employee Relations before doing so.)
The Notice of Imposed Probation is retained in an employee’s personnel file and the manager may document the Imposed Probation in the performance management system. The manager may consider the reasons for the Imposed Probation during the performance review process.
Manager may suspend an employee, with the approval of that manager’s manager and VCU HR Employee Relations, where behavioral, performance or misconduct issues pose substantial risk or failed to be corrected.
Suspension may occur after a written warning or be imposed without notice where behavioral, performance or misconduct issues pose an immediate risk.
When an employee is being investigated for alleged criminal conduct that is related to the nature of the employee’s job or to the university’s mission, management may immediately suspend and remove the employee from the workplace without advance notice, while continuing pay. (Consult with the HR Professional before doing so.)
An employee who is suspended with pay because of alleged criminal conduct may continue in such status until the employee is formally charged with a criminal offense or the criminal investigation is concluded without any formal charges being made.
If the employee is not formally charged or if the employee is not convicted of the criminal charge, the manager may return the employee to work after consultation with VCU Human Resources.
Prepare the Notice of Suspension using the Progressive discipline form to include the following:
The behavior, performance or misconduct issues that posed a substantial risk.
Manager states how long the employee will be suspended and whether the suspension is with or without pay
Administrative leave with pay
Must have approval of the manager’s manager and VCU Human Resources.
May not exceed 15 working days without further consultation with VCU Human Resources.
Administrative leave (Disciplinary Suspension) without pay
Must have approval of the manager’s manager and VCU Human Resources.
May not exceed 10 working days, except in cases where criminal charges are involved.
Manager should inform the employee that it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain their benefit payments while on suspension.
Manager presents the employee with the Notice of Suspension and provides the employee an opportunity to sign the notice, acknowledging receipt. If the employee refuses to sign, the manager indicates the same on the Notice of Suspension, and sends the original to the HR Professional to be placed in the personnel file with VCU Human Resources.
A Notice of Suspension is retained in an employee’s personnel file.
Manager may demote an employee, with the approval of that manager’s manager and VCU HR Employee Relations, into a different position with lesser qualifications and lower pay, when the employee has demonstrated an inability to satisfactorily perform the essential functions of the current job.
Demotion should not occur without prior written warning from the manager of performance deficiencies, with an opportunity for the employee to meet the essential job requirements.
In determining an appropriate position for demotion, the manager should consult with their HR Professional and determine the most appropriate job family, job title and level. The HR Professional can be helpful in determining the amount of salary reduction, providing information regarding university practice, market data and salary comparisons for similar positions.
Manager prepares the Notice of Demotion using the Progressive discipline form form to include the following:
The reasons for the demotion and the steps taken (or not taken) that led up to such decision.
Manager presents the employee with the Notice of Demotion and provides the employee an opportunity to sign the notice, acknowledging receipt. If the employee refuses to sign, the manager indicates the same on the Notice of Demotion, and sends the original to the HR Professional to be placed in the personnel file with VCU Human Resources.
A Notice of Demotion is retained in an employee’s personnel file.
Manager may dismiss an employee, with the approval of that manager’s manager and VCU HR Employee Relations, where the employee:
has received three written warnings within an 18-month period;
has been convicted of a felony;
committed an act of serious misconduct; or
has demonstrated a pattern of unsatisfactory job performance that has not been corrected after notice and an opportunity has been provided to correct identified performance deficiencies through the progressive discipline process.
Manager prepares the Notice of Dismissal using the Progressive discipline form form to include the reason(s) for the dismissal that led up to such decision.
Manager documents and forwards a copy to your HR professional to be placed in the personnel file with VCU Human Resources.
A Notice of Dismissal is retained in an employee’s personnel file.
If the manager (or manager's manager) determines that taking formal disciplinary action, such as including but not limited to a verbal warning, written warning, imposed probation, or demotion, against an employee is warranted, the manager should advise the employee, in writing, of the intended action and the reason(s) for the intended action prior to the issuance of the disciplinary action. Before issuing due process to an employee for any formal disciplinary action, the manager should consult with VCU HR Employee Relations. The employee should be afforded a reasonable amount of time to respond, in writing or in person, to the intended action and the reasons upon which the intended action is based. Managers should consult with VCU HR Employee Relations and regarding the employee’s response to the due process notice and any mitigating or aggravating factors before making a decision about whether to issue discipline to the employee.