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Navigating Employment at Will and Progressive Discipline in the Workplace

Jun 23, 2023 | 0 comments

Jun 23, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Employment at will defines a structure upon which an employee can decide to leave a job when he or she wants to for any reason, and it also works the other way where an employer can terminate his or her employee for any particular reason without a specific cause or notice ( Shepard et.al (1987). Shepard et.al (1987) states that the objective and aim of the employment-at-will doctrine is the prevention of wrongful terminations as well as employment lawsuits that may occur between employees and their employers.


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According to Shepard et.al (1987), employment-at-will has some key exceptions in employment which function at the state as well as the federal level which can sufficiently be prevented from being utilized as a defense within a lawsuit. Harcourt et.al (2013) indicates that the first exemption is the public-policy exception. This exception comes into implementation when an employee is wrongfully discharged from his or her work when the cause of termination runs against an explicit and public policy that is well-established by the State (Harcourt et.al, 2013). A good instance of such a case would be the fact that in several states, an employer is in no position to terminate his or her employee for having filed a workers’ compensation claim due to an injury attained while at work, as well as when an employee standing against breaking the law as per the request of his or her employer.

The second exemption is the implied-contract exception which applies when an employer-employee contract is formed which is a written instrument in regards to the existing employment relationship (Harcourt et.al, 2013). However, Harcourt et.al (2013) explains that even with employment typically not being contract governed, an employer is in a position to make both oral and written representations to their employees in regards to their job security as well as procedures which will be implemented in a situation where adverse employment actions are undertaken.

The third exemption is the covenant-of-good-faith exception. Harcourt et al. (2013) point out that specifically eleven States recognize this exception; furthermore, this exception deals with the representation of the most significant departures derived from the traditional doctrine of employment-at-will. According to Shepard et.al (1987) instead of a narrow prohibition of employment terminations based on public policy as well as an implied contract, thus this particular exception is quite broad when determining a covenant-of-good-faith as well as fair dealing in concern to all employment relationships.

Amongst the exceptions, however, in regards to the Employment at Will Doctrine, employment contracts are the most relevant amongst the rest of the exemptions to the current Human Resource practices. Shepard et.al (1987) mentions that the formal employment contracts help the Human Resource within the organization to determine the protection offered and provided to an organization’s employers and employees under the employment-at-will. With the human resource having a written contract in place employers are given the ability to outline an employee’s responsibilities, duties as well as work structure.

Progressive discipline in the definition is referred to as a process of utilizing significantly critical steps as well as measures in a situation where an employee has failed to effectively correct a certain problem after he or she is given a fair opportunity to resolute it (Mader- Clark & Guerin, 2007). Mader- Clark, and Guerin (2007) mention that the key root principle behind the sound progressive discipline is utilizing the least severe action which you consider necessary towards the correction of the certain undesirable situation. According to the progressive discipline, Canada (2011) explains that the increase of severity of the implemented action is done only if the particular situation is not corrected effectively. Canada (2011) thus defines progressive discipline policy as one that establishes a clear progression of the set disciplinary actions that will be undertaken once an employee violates the work rules.

The progressive disciplinary policy includes a set of standardized steps; the first step is a verbal warning. According to Mader- Clark, and Guerin (2007), a verbal warning is defined as a substantially informal one. The verbal warning ensures that an employee is given awareness of the infraction in question and thus allowed to take the necessary steps towards getting a solution and remedy for it. Mader- Clark, and Guerin (2007) point out that even if the verbal warning is practically verbal is recommended to document it.

The second step taken within the implementation progressive disciplinary system is a written warning (Canada, 2011). Canada (2011) states that an employee can be handed one or more written warnings; Canada (2011) further states that a written warning is considered a substantially formal warning. A written warning is issued once a verbal warning is not productive towards objectifying a positive change within the employee in question behavior at work.

The third step undertaken in the implementation progressive disciplinary system is suspension. Canada (2011) explains that a suspension as per the choice of an employer could be with or even without pay. Canada (2011) further expresses that suspensions are put in place as a result of major infractions and to create time to investigate the entire situation. Lastly, termination is the last step undertaken. Termination is considered the last resort in most situations and more often than not cannot be avoided. Every step has in place documentation but any termination decision documentation is more vital than in the other steps.

The concepts as well as practices progressive discipline together with that of employment-at-will have a certain level of interaction. The employment contracts are under the Charter schools and are required to provide ‘Good Cause’ for the implemented termination, as the due process as per the Constitution. Charter schools are under the governance of government employment laws. The progressive discipline process embraces effective documentation which efficiently fits in the charter school set policy. Both the progressive discipline together with that of employment-at-will embraces the Charter school in their policymaking.

Nevertheless, utilizing and implementing a progressive discipline policy may compromise the doctrine of employment-at-will. For instance, under the employment-at-will doctrine, an employer, as well as the employee, is placed in a position free to access at any time termination of the existing employment relationship; whether or not they give notice and reason. Therefore a progressive discipline may lead to the creation of a reasonable expectation upon which a particular procedure will efficiently be followed as well as the fact that there is a requirement for reasonable cause for the termination.

The doctrine of employment-at-will together with the progressive discipline is vital in the realization of the employee potential as well as the maximization of organizational outcomes. The policies provide clear explanations of all the consequences that come with not meeting the company’s employer’s expectations as well as not keeping up with the employer’s rules; thus keeping the improve its customer service to its clients. The associates or the employees in check and pushing them towards achieving their employer expectations. Secondly, the policies provide a system that allows enhancing consistency as well as fairness in the disciplinary procedures in the organizations; therefore with consistency in the organization’s system the organization’s capacity to maximize their outcome increases. Thirdly embracing the policies allows the employees to make better, positive changes that are beneficial to the company’s overall performance. Fourthly, the policies give room got the employer to explain to the employees which actions could be undertaken towards improving the present situation; thus with the opportunity to coach as well as a mentor their employees the employer is enhancing the ability of the employee to reach their maximum potential in their work duties.


Canada. (2011). Progressive discipline. Gatineau, Québec: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Harcourt, M., Lam, H., Hannay, M., & University of Waikato. (2013). Distributive justice, employment at will, and just cause dismissal.

Mader-Clark, M., & Guerin, L. (2007). The progressive discipline handbook: Smart strategies for coaching employees. Berkeley, CA: NOLO.

Shepard, I. M., Olsen, H., Duston, R. L., & College and University Personnel Association. (1987). Employment at will: A guide to an eroding doctrine. Washington, D.C: College and University Personnel Association.

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