If your business is in an “at-will” state (and you are, unless you’re in Montana), you should never ever include disciplinary steps in an employee handbook.
Latest case in point: Buttrick v. Intercity Alarms, LLC. This company, located in Massachusetts, had a section in their employee handbook called “Disciplinary Policy”which indicated the severity of any disciplinary action taken by the company would “in accordance with the following: Verbal Counseling . . . Written Counseling . . . Suspension.”.
Guess what? An employee was terminated after one verbal counseling, but not written counseling or suspension. That is a business owner’s right – unless it’s in writing in the employee handbook!
So, the employee sued, and won $41,888 from Intercity Alarms. (To say nothing of the legal fees incurred by Intercity).
Don’t put a discipline policy in your handbook. Train your management team in appropriate steps and anytime an employee needs to be disciplined, run it by your HR department or your HR Consultant.
A great write-up on the case is here from Ogletree Deakins.