Throughout my career I have assisted many organizations with their progressive disciplinary processes. They are often surprised that I view discipline as an opportunity to improve performance rather than a punishment. In my opinion it is much easier to improve an employee’s performance than to find their replacement. Do not get me wrong, discipline is necessary, I just put a different spin on it.

Effective Discipline

An effective progressive disciplinary process generally uses the steps of verbal warning, documented discussion, disciplinary lay-off, and termination of employment. It’s important to have flexibility within the process. Depending on the severity of the incident, it may be necessary to skip some or all of the procedural steps in favor of disciplinary lay-off or termination. For instance, an employee failing to lock and tag out machinery for servicing or maintenance.

Each time the process is used the persons issuing and receiving the discipline should meet to discuss the events, details, etc. This is a great opportunity to coach the employee. Consider following these steps during the discussion:

Step 1: Inform the individual of the at-risk behavior or safety policy violation. For example, not wearing eye protection while using a hand grinder.

Step 2: Inform the individual of the potential consequences of their actions. In this case, metal fragments striking, abrading, or penetrating the eyeball causing pain and possible loss of vision.

Step 3: Inform the employee of the safety disciplinary policy that has been violated. For instance, the requirement to wear both a face shield and goggles when using hand grinders.

Step 4: Inform the employee of the future desired behaviors and result. For example, wearing goggles and a face shield will eliminate the potential for an eye injury and possible loss of vision.

Step 5: Document the discussion including the policy violation, at-risk behavior, desired behaviors, and the results of engaging in the desired behavior.


As you can see, these steps not only focus on the infraction but chart a path to improvement and behavioral change. We often forget to take the opportunity to reinforce positive outcomes that behavioral change can bring.

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Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, Inc. He has over 25 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at [email protected]