Your discipline policy should explain your organization’s approach to correcting employee behavior. 

Below is a Sample General Discipline Policy and a Sample Progressive Discipline Policy.

Sample Policy:
General Discipline

[Insert name of your organization] requires all employees to follow policies, procedures, and rules established by the organization, act in a professional manner at all times, and perform their assigned duties in a timely, effective, and competent manner. 

When employees perform at an unsatisfactory level, violate an organizational policy, or engage in misconduct, [Insert name of your organization] will provide employees with reasonable opportunities to correct deficiencies, where possible. However, with employees who are at-will, [Insert name of your organization] may decide to terminate an employee at will, at any time, with or without cause and without following any particular system of discipline or warning.

Generally, [Insert name of your organization] management will try to use corrective action that is less severe than terminating an employee. For example, management may use oral counseling, written counseling, suspension with or without pay, probation, or a combination thereof when disciplining an employee.

Sometimes an incident involving an employee may require an investigation. In that instance, the employee may be placed on an investigatory leave to give [Insert name of your organization] leadership an opportunity to review the circumstances related to a potential disciplinary matter. Doing a complete investigation can help leadership to render an appropriate decision on how to handle the matter fairly. 

[Insert your organization’s policy on whether investigatory leave is paid or unpaid). When an employee is on investigatory leave, the leave is typically paid and will not negatively affect an employee’s personnel file until the results and decisions from the investigation are officially made. The final results of the investigation may lead to documentation and other disciplinary action, if warranted, up to and including termination.

Each situation that may require potential discipline will be handled on an individual basis. It will take into consideration the specific facts of the case and the severity of the conduct in question. Furthermore, whenever a discipline issue is formally documented, employees will typically be asked to acknowledge that the employee was given a copy of the document by signing the original. The employee’s signature will acknowledge receipt of the document but will not signify the employee’s agreement with the contents of the document.

Progressive Discipline Pitfalls

While progressive discipline can address many workplace issues, there are legal disagreements about whether a written progressive discipline policy should be included in an employment handbook. The difficulty stems from defining which offenses require termination.

Because a progressive discipline policy can seriously compromise an organization’s discretion in individual circumstances, it is recommended that a progressive discipline policy not be included in the employee handbook unless the organization intends to faithfully and consistently adhere to the policy.

One benefit of a progressive discipline policy is that it tells employees how various offenses or violations will be treated. A disadvantage is that it’s nearly impossible to list every possible offense that could occur or to predict the severity of various offenses.

More importantly, policy interpretations differ greatly between employers and employees (and their attorneys). Let’s say that a policy permits immediate termination for insubordination. An employee, when confronted with an attitude problem, responds in anger and threatens the supervisor that “I’ll prove you wrong!” Then, the employee returns to the classroom and writes a letter to the parents venting his or her side of the story. Is that considered insubordination? It depends. How is insubordination defined?

Another example of how differing viewpoints affect clarity would be a policy that allows discipline for “anything that violates Scripture, in spirit or law.” It’s discovered that an employee is in a same sex relationship, which violates your church’s interpretation of Scripture. But when the employee is confronted, the employee says his interpretation of Scripture doesn’t view this as a sin. How will the courts interpret that?

If your organization chooses a progressive discipline policy, include language explaining that deviations from the policy can and will be made and that the list is not exhaustive. Also, if your organization provides for probationary periods, include exclusions stating that the policy doesn’t apply during that time.


This policy provides employees who violate policies or perform unsatisfactorily an opportunity to correct their behavior. It is designed as a set of guidelines and is included simply to recommend the normal disciplinary actions to be taken. Nothing in this policy limits the right of (name of organization) to diverge from or modify the sequence of actions listed in this policy. Furthermore, these guidelines cannot cover every situation that might require disciplinary action and, therefore, are not an exclusive list of all behaviors that could result in discipline. Nothing in this policy shall affect the at-will status of employees.

Employee misconduct that does not rise to the level of immediate termination will generally be addressed through progressive discipline, consisting of four steps: oral warning, written warning, suspension, and termination.

Oral Warning

An oral warning is generally used to address misconduct that may not be serious as a single incident but could become problematic if a pattern develops. After the manager has discussed the misconduct with the employee, a document prepared by the manager explaining the discussion will be placed in the manager’s file.

Written Warning

A written warning is generally used when a serious incident occurs or when a pattern of misconduct develops. The manager will prepare a written statement addressing the misconduct. The employee will sign the document, acknowledging having received a copy of the warning. The written warning will then be placed in the employee’s personnel file.


An employee may be suspended when misconduct previously addressed has not improved or for offenses for which immediate termination may not be appropriate. The suspension should be documented by the manager, signed by the employee, and placed in the employee’s personnel file.


If progressive discipline fails to improve an employee’s conduct, or if serious misconduct occurs, termination may result.

NOTE: This progressive discipline policy does not apply to employees during their introductory period.

This is a sample handbook policy only. Your organization is responsible for compliance with all applicable laws. Accordingly, this document should not be used or adopted by your organization without first being reviewed and approved by a licensed attorney in your area. Brotherhood Mutual assumes no liability in preparation and distribution of this sample document.

Working Together © 2022 Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. All rights reserved. www.brotherhoodmutual.com/working-together. Updated 9/2021.