Common Methods of Employee Discipline: 'Hot Stove' and Progressive Discipline

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  • 0:02 Disciplinary Action
  • 0:34 Hot Stove Rule
  • 3:18 Progressive Discipline
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Nobody likes to be disciplined at work, but sometimes it's necessary. In this lesson, you'll learn about the 'hot stove' rule. We'll also take a look at a progressive disciplinary system. You'll also have a chance to take a short quiz after the lesson.

Disciplinary Action - An Overview

Juan is a human resource specialist that has been asked to review his company's disciplinary procedures. Discipline is an action taken by an employer to correct an employee's poor performance or behavior that violates the company's policies or procedures. Juan knows that it's important for employers to not treat discipline as a form of punishment but rather as a method to train employees to be better employees or improve unacceptable work behavior or attitudes. The idea is not to punish past behavior but to improve future behavior.

'Hot Stove' Rule

Juan also knows that it's a good idea to follow the 'hot stove' rule in discipline. If you have ever touched a hot stove, you probably will not do it again. Let's see why:

  • You receive immediate feedback. If you touch your hand to a hot stove, it burns - cause and effect is clear and immediate.
  • You know beforehand what happens if you touch a hot stove and you can tell a stove is hot because of the flame or the red heating elements. Knowing in advance what behavior will be disciplined will help prevent the discipline.
  • The consequences are applied consistently. If you touch the hot stove, you get burned no matter how many times you touch it. There are consequences each and every time you touch it.
  • The hot stove doesn't care who you are, it only cares about what you do. If you touch it, you get burned. If anyone else touches it, they get burned. The consequences are not personal - the consequences are based only on behavior.

Juan can take these principles and develop a set of rules concerning the company's disciplinary actions, which we can call the hot stove rule:

  • Discipline should be immediate: In other words, when an employee violates a rule, procedure or standard, discipline should be undertaken as quickly as possible just like the pain felt when you touch a hot stove.
  • Fair warning must be provided: Employees should be disciplined for violations only if they had reasonable notice that certain behavior violates a company policy or rule. Sometimes, this is a no-brainer, like employee theft. At other times, employees need to be educated about the company's rules and policies so they can act in accord with them.
  • Consistency in discipline is required: A hot stove doesn't give you a pass every once in a while. If you touch it, you get burned. In order for discipline to be as effective as possible, it should be applied the same. If the company wants to be lenient, then it should apply the leniency consistently with all employees in the same situation. Harshness should be consistent as well. If one employee is terminated for being late three times without good cause, then all other employees should receive the same employment action.
  • Disciplinary action should be impersonal: A hot stove doesn't care who touches it, it will burn princes and paupers alike. Likewise, the company's disciplinary actions should be applied, or not applied, based upon conduct, not based upon who is engaged in the conduct. Once the disciplinary action has been completed, managers should treat the employee subjected to discipline just like everyone else.

In summary, the hot stove rule holds that disciplinary action should be taken immediately, after being properly warned, consistently and applied impersonally.

Progressive Discipline

In designing a disciplinary procedure, Juan decides upon use of progressive discipline. In progressive discipline, employees are subject to increasing, or progressive, disciplinary action for continuing misconduct. The idea is to take just enough action necessary to stop the behavior. Most progressive disciplinary systems involve four steps:

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