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Progressive Discipline Plans for Healthcare Workers

Your progressive discipline plan traditionally contains various steps, including verbal, written, and final warnings. You must communicate this plan in your employee handbook or you could face lawsuits for wrongful termination.

What should you do when your insurance coordinator is always late processing payments? Or one of your opticians lied in their job interview? This is where progressive discipline comes in. In the most simple terms, progressive discipline is a system of corrective action for managing the poor performance of employees in your practice — doctors, nurses, dentists, optometrists, physical therapists, office managers, and all other team members. It's one of the most critical components of healthcare HR.

How Does a Progressive Discipline Plan Work in Your Practice?

A progressive discipline plan documents all the disciplinary and grievance procedures in your practice, including warnings and structured termination practices. In other words, the disciplinary action you will take when dealing with violations of rules, policies, and values in your practice.

Violations might include:

  • Poor attendance (Tip: Use digital time-tracking tools to collect evidence for poor attendance.)
  • Tardiness (A dental hygienist who is consistently late for appointments, for example.)
  • Discriminatory behavior/sexual harassment
  • Bullying behavior (An office manager who abuses other members of their team, for example. Or a disruptive attitude)
  • Poor completion of job duties
  • Insubordination (A doctor's assistant who deliberately refuses to follow a doctor's lawful and reasonable orders, for example.)
  • Actions that compromise patient care or healthcare outcomes (A physical therapist who fails to safeguard confidential patient data or refuses to use security technologies like cloud-based document vaults, for example.)
  • Actions that compromise health and safety outcomes (A surgeon who consistently fails to wear personal protective equipment, for example.)
  • Other actions such as excessive cell phone use or unauthorized overtime (Not following schedules or clocking in too early, for example.)

Disciplinary action might include:

  • Written warnings
  • Verbal warnings
  • Final warnings
  • Suspension
  • Termination
  • Immediate termination

Keeping all disciplinary information in a customized employee handbook provides employees with a frame of reference for understanding your disciplinary and grievance protocols. It also improves compliance outcomes: (You should retain disciplinary records and procedures as required by law.)

Think of your customized employee manual as a set of expectations in your practice. This document communicates the behaviors and values that you expect of employees. It also communicates what employees can expect from you. It serves as a reference manual and a deterrent. 

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Why is a Progressive Discipline Plan So Important?

A progressive discipline plan fulfills two functions: It documents consistent patterns of poor work performance and provides a defense in the event of an unfair (or unlawful) termination claim from an employee. Even states that exercise "at-will" employment are not immune to discrimination claims under federal legislation so it's important to keep a record of all disciplinary action.

In the event of a wrongful termination lawsuit, a litigation attorney assesses the validity of an employee's claim and reviews all employment documentation during a consultation. This documentation might include:

  • Separation documents
  • Violations
  • Most importantly, your employee handbook and progressive discipline plan

Not having these documents (or having inconsistent, inaccurate documentation) might indicate other missteps in your disciplinary and termination processes. However, accurate documentation like customized and legally-compliant employee handbooks deter even the most proficient of attorneys. 

A progressive discipline plan also benefits employees in your practice. Unless a dentist (for example) commits an egregious act like theft or violence, she deserves objective and consistent documentation that supports your termination decision. 


What's the Difference Between a Progressive Discipline Plan and a Development Plan?

A development plan is more forgiving than a progressive discipline plan. It's more of a coaching tool than a means of termination, reserved for situations where improvement is certainly possible. (For example, a vet technician who requires additional support to address their tardiness problem.)

Development plans typically include a timeline for improvement and tangible measures of success. 

Final Word

A progressive discipline plan (or in rare circumstances, a discipline plan) is one of the most important documents in healthcare HR. It serves as a roadmap for effectively managing employee performance and behavior, ensuring compliance with legal requirements, and maintaining a positive work environment. By following the steps outlined above, you can effectively communicate disciplinary and termination procedures in your practice, avoiding potential legal issues and protecting the rights of both your employees and your organization.

To streamline the process of implementing a progressive discipline plan, consider utilizing HR for Health's comprehensive human resources platform. This platform offers a range of powerful tools designed specifically for practice owners, including features such as integrated payroll, timekeeping, 401(k) management, and more. With this platform, you can efficiently manage all aspects of your progressive discipline plan, ensuring seamless integration and ease of use.

By leveraging the capabilities of HR for Health's human resources platform, you can effectively track employee performance, document disciplinary actions, and maintain accurate records. This helps establish a clear and consistent record of employee behavior and provides valuable evidence in the event of a wrongful termination claim. With these tools at your disposal, you can confidently navigate the complexities of healthcare HR, ensuring that your practice complies with legal requirements while fostering a productive and respectful work environment.

Remember, a well-documented and effectively implemented progressive discipline plan is crucial to healthcare HR. It demonstrates your commitment to fair and consistent treatment of your employees while protecting your practice's best interests. By utilizing the resources and tools available through HR for Health's human resources platform, you can confidently manage your progressive discipline plan and ensure the success of your practice.