What Is Disciplinary Probation?

An employee is put on disciplinary probation when he or she exhibits unacceptable behavior in the workplace, based on the policies reflected in the company’s employee handbook. It’s an ideal way to help improve individual productivity and boost team performance for the benefit of all. Employees that display poor performance at work or commit acts of misconduct are subject to disciplinary probation. A company can place a permanent employee on probationary status, especially when there is a need to do so. These employees are usually left with an ultimatum: to improve or to go. Though this puts an employee under an intense amount of pressure, such an approach is necessary to sustain a healthy work environment.

16+ Disciplinary Probation Examples, Templates, Format in Word, PDF

The Importance of Disciplinary Probation

A study by Statista shows the growth in the number of full-time employees in the U.S. from 129.63 million to an astounding 131.99 million from October 2018 to October 2019. Looking at these figures, you can only imagine how difficult it is to manage an entire workforce of more than a hundred people. While a growing workforce is always a good thing, it does make the company vulnerable to risks.

Employment contracts are essential in communicating the terms and conditions of the business relationship for both parties to reach an understanding. Employers and employees must then adhere to these rules as part of their obligations to the agreement. While most people know better than to violate company policies, you won’t always have the blessing of a team of fifty principled employees. At least once in your position as a supervisor or HR manager, you’ll encounter an employee that isn’t as compliant as the others.

Discipline is crucial in a business setting, as it ensures that employees act accordingly while on duty. Regardless of how casual your relationship is with your employees, they still need to show a level of respect toward the organization and its policies. From a survey conducted by the University of Central Florida, 65% of 199 respondents have confidence in their company’s current employee disciplinary systems toward enhancing work performance. Keep in mind that misbehavior will only lead to less productivity, not to mention a poor work culture. Hence, employees that continuously break the rules must face the necessary proceedings as a consequence of their actions.


How to Place an Employee on Disciplinary Probation

Some employees are a challenge to manage. In some instances, one or more verbal warnings aren’t enough to let them learn their lesson. If so, it may be time for you to issue a written notice for disciplinary probation. This approach gives you the chance to open a discussion regarding the performance or behavioral issues that hinder an employee from reaching his or her full potential. Employees who continuously cause problems may no longer offer value to the organization, which could eventually lead to an employee’s termination.

Since confrontation can be uncomfortable to some, here’s some advice on how you can put an employee on disciplinary probation.

Step 1: Have a Look at the Person’s File

When someone acts or performs unfavorably, there are several factors to consider before springing into action. The first thing you’ll want to do is to review the employee’s files, which may comprise performance reports, attendance records, and other related documents. You can also seek assistance from the employee’s immediate supervisor to gather additional details regarding productivity and behavior. Find out if the person has caused trouble in the past and how these incidents were resolved. Proper evaluation plays a crucial part in making your decision. While you can’t always use the information you’ve collected to build your case, it does help you understand what drove the employee to act out the way they did. You might even discover a pattern that requires your immediate attention.

Step 2: Write Out a Warning Notice

Document the incident you want to address by writing a notice to the employee. It should outline the exact details of the event to explain how such actions violate company policies. You’ll also want to indicate how one’s behavior or performance can disrupt the work environment or decrease productivity to everyone’s disadvantage. Details on what and when the problem occurred are also a critical component to emphasize in your letter. It’s essential to be clear about the consequences a troublesome employee is bound to face should they repeat their actions despite the final warning.

Step 3: Schedule a Meeting

Call a meeting with the employee to further discuss the details of the case along with their probation. Employees will likely have a ton of questions that you’ll need to clarify in person for better comprehension. You can also opt to invite the employee’s supervisor to talk about the concern and address matters more coherently.

During the meeting, you need to explain what drove you to call it and what you hope to achieve as the outcome. Your objectives should center on the company’s welfare and the employee’s personal development. It’s also a good idea to highlight some of their favorable performance points as well as the negative ones. You don’t want to threaten the employee by enforcing your power to get them fired. Instead, you need to let the employee know that they’re a valuable member of the organization and that you commit to their improvement.

Step 4: Request for Input

The employee called to question may be completely oblivious of his or her shortcomings or noncompliance with company policies. In such cases, they’ll be willing to cooperate and conform to your plan of action. Also, it won’t hurt to ask the employee for suggestions or feedback about how the situation should be dealt with. You can take the time to organize training sessions or directly supervise the employee as a way of improving their performance and correcting past actions.

Everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves, which is why this step focuses on allowing employees to clear their names as opposed to finding fault in what they’ve done.

Step 5: Plan for a Follow-Up

Depending on how long one’s probationary period is set to last, you can schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss the progress made over time. Be sure to assess whether the employee was able to meet a defined set of goals as expected, giving you another reason to conduct regular reviews on company personnel. Positive records demonstrate the success of your performance improvement plan, which you can use as a basis when deciding what’s next for the employee.

But if an employee continues to acquire poor performance scores, don’t hesitate to make the difficult decision of dismissing the individual. Keep in mind that your company will never progress if it continues to tolerate bad behavior.

The Dos and Don’ts of Disciplinary Probation

Employee discipline is a must in every organization. It promotes a safe and welcoming environment for all as a means of increasing productivity and building trust between managers and their staff. But maintaining peace and order in the workplace is far more complicated than people expect it to be, as you need to create a plan that will lead you to discipline problematic individuals effectively. With communication and consistency being vital to your main goal, you’ll want to keep the following guidelines in mind when dealing with disciplinary probation.


1. Do establish strict rules for your company’s workforce. 

It’s unethical to fire an employee for something they had no idea was unacceptable. While ignorance might not be a valid excuse, it’s still imperative for employers to clarify the policies of the company from the get-go. Some key areas to emphasize in your company’s handbook and employee training program are the dress code, behavior rules, work ethics, leave policies, mobile devices, and illegal practices. You’ll also want to point out your terms for at-will employment, as the individuals you decide to fire may want to know the reason behind their dismissal without prior notice.

2. Do inform the employee about the probation. 

You have to let the employee know that they’re under probation. Let’s say an individual is put on probation due to low productivity scores in three consecutive months. This can often affect the team’s overall performance, so it only makes sense for the management to call out the employee before the company incurs a further loss. The employee will then have to complete a performance improvement plan (PIP) to get out of that slump, or otherwise, face possible dismissal from his or her position. You can inform the employee about the proposed setup through a disciplinary probation letter.

3. Do state the length of the probation. 

How long will the employee be under probation? Although employers are free to determine this on their own, it can last anywhere from thirty days to an entire year. There are no laws that govern such lengths, which means that decisions will vary at the company’s own discretion. Most employers believe a ninety-day period is sufficient enough to observe an employee as they try to improve themselves in terms of workplace behavior and productivity. If the individual passes the evaluation, you can remove the probationary status and have the employee continue working as a valuable member of the workforce.

4. Do allow the employee to explain his or her side of the story.  

Once you receive a concerning report about an employee, refrain from jumping to conclusions. There are often two sides of the story that’s not always apparent from the surface. You must address the situation fairly by allowing the employee to present information about the case to help justify his or her actions. One example of a scenario you’re likely to encounter would be a fight that breaks out between two individuals. While approaching the situation with force is never the answer, one party could be acting in self-defense, which can sometimes ease whatever punishment managers have in mind.

Though there’s no guarantee that this will put them off the hook, getting a person’s point of view will matter to their professional record.

5. Do follow disciplinary procedures accordingly.  

One of the things noted in an employee handbook is the procedures that the management will take for situations that involve acts of misconduct. It’s surprisingly common for employers to set rules and guidelines in the workplace, but still ignore the progressive disciplinary policy made from the beginning. If you already have this down on paper, you must comply with it to ensure a fair trial. Under no circumstance does a manager have the right to dismiss an employee without taking the proper course of action. Otherwise, an employee may forward this concern to the higher authority and get you in trouble.


1. Don’t put employees on probation without warning. 

In most cases, employees receive several warnings before being placed on probation. As for employees that commit major offenses, giving them one last chance to defend themselves and correct their mistakes may spare them from termination. Regardless of the circumstance, it’s essential to issue a written warning for the individual to be aware of what they’ve been doing wrong and why they’re being called out for it. The last thing you want to do is to catch someone off-guard with a letter announcing their probation without letting them know the reason behind the management’s decision.

2. Don’t neglect employee reviews. 

There are many factors to consider before placing an individual on probation. Since employees are always under surveillance by their employers, you may have several business reports and notes that reflect one’s behavior and performance throughout their employment. These files are confidential, which means that employees do not have access to these documents even after they leave the company. The written record may tell you a thing or two about an employee’s behavioral patterns to determine whether the act committed is a one-time thing or something foreseeable. You need to be very careful when deciding what to do next, as you wouldn’t want to respond too harshly to an honest mistake.

3. Don’t impose a negative mindset. 

Employee discipline shouldn’t be deemed as a punishment. Instead, consider it as a progressive approach to guiding your workforce toward self-improvement and team development. You need to remind your employees that what you’re doing is for the betterment of all. By organizing training programs and company seminars, you can tell employees of their obligations to the company, along with methods that they could use to boost their attitude toward their jobs. Many employees resent their superiors after getting called out for obnoxious behavior, despite causing the problem in the first place.

If you don’t want people to feel as if you’re holding them on a short leash, try not to make them feel as if the probation is a punishment.

4. Don’t make productivity your only deciding factor. 

You’d be surprised by how often managers choose to ignore bad behavior, all because of good productivity scores. It’s a dangerous approach that has led to toxic work environments in many organizations. Working among people who exhibit immoral behavior in the workplace can take its toll on the rest of your employees, causing only more problems for you to handle. You don’t want to wait until these problems force you to take drastic measures in an effort to save what’s left. It’s always best to think rationally by taking other significant factors into account as you decide the fate of an employee.

5. Don’t bring up past problems. 

Avoid digging into past mistakes or other concerns that don’t relate to the current issue. When you call out an employee for something he or she did, you’ll want to focus on that particular problem and express what you expect them to do so history doesn’t repeat itself. Be sure to explain the impact of one’s actions on the company and its people, giving the employee a better idea of why his or her actions were unacceptable. Together, you and the subject of the probation may form an action plan to resolve such issues.

After getting the greenlight from Human Resources, you must inform the employee that they are on probation through a written notice. Following a smooth and consistent process enables you to manage progressive disciplinary cases more efficiently, especially when managing a large team of workers. It also helps groom your employees through proper guidance and training to refine their performance and behavior in the workplace. Good disciplinary practices are sure to help your team meet its goals and deadlines by the end of the day.