Employers often view progressive discipline as a burdensome process they have to endure. For non-unionized employees, if there are significant performance issues and the employer is to have any hope of establishing just cause for a termination, a progressive discipline process has to be followed. Although non-unionized employees are not entitled to any reason for a termination, if there is not just cause they will be owed pay in lieu of reasonable notice.
There is, however, a much more important human resource management role for progressive discipline than creating negotiation leverage for when the lawyers get involved.
The biggest objection I hear from employer clients to providing problem employees with warning letters is that if they are not going to be able to establish just cause anyway, it won=t make a difference: the employee should know without receiving a letter that their awful performance is endangering their employment.
The surprising thing is how often employees do not realize that they are living on the edge. The old saying that familiarity breeds contempt often rings true.
The scenario is usually that you=ve got a 10 to 15 year employee who has been doing the same job forever. Over the years they have become set in their ways, including their bad habits. Perhaps they are contemptuous of management and co-workers. Maybe they have gotten into the habit of routinely calling in sick without justification. Perhaps they even ignore explicit directives from their manager about how and when work is to be done.
Although management has complained about this behaviour in passing, nobody has ever sat the employee down, looked them in the eye and told them that they may soon be out of a job if things  don=t change. The supervisor assumes that their level of frustration is so obvious that the employee should know their job is in danger without it being said out loud. Perhaps the supervisor is afraid of interpersonal conflict and should not be a supervisor at all.
The fact is that the employee=s mind may be completely elsewhere. They have been there so long they assume without thinking about it that they will never be terminated.
Often, that sit down, in-your-face meeting followed up with written confirmation that their job is in danger can turn things around. Putting it in writing is especially important. It sends the message that the employer means business. It can be a very effective wake-up call.
Once in a while, after hearing all this, an employer still assures me that the employee will never change their ways.  I ask the employer what they have to lose. They have been putting up with this bad performance for a long time. If I am wrong, is another month going to make a difference?
The cost of terminating the employee includes lawyer=s fees, a severance package and  recruiting and hiring a new person for the position.

The employer already has somebody who knows how to do the job. There is seldom anything for the employer to lose by putting all their cards on the table.
As published in the Hamilton Spectator, June 8, 2004
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809