When an arbitrator decides whether to sustain or overturn a disciplinary action, he/she considers a number of factors. One of those factors is whether the level of discipline that was taken was appropriate under the circumstances. In making this determination, the arbitrator expects to see that any serious discipline was preceded by lesser discipline to place the employee on notice that the conduct is unacceptable and that more severe discipline may result if the conduct is not corrected. This does not mean that every infraction must go through every step of the corrective action process. Some forms of misconduct, such as theft, may warrant dismissal on the first offense.
Since each case is unique, there is no easy formula that tells you what level of progressive discipline should be taken for any given form of misconduct. Generally, for minor misconduct such as tardiness, absenteeism or discourtesy (without profanity), progressive discipline would normally follow these steps: verbal counseling, counseling memo, letter of reprimand, disciplinary letter equating to a 1 day suspension, disciplinary letter (or letters) equating to a 3 to 30 day suspension, and finally dismissal. It is possible to repeat steps in the process. For example, you may verbally counsel an employee about tardiness and then issue a written counseling memo if the tardiness continues. If the employee then goes for an extended period of time without a tardy and then is again tardy, it may be best to issue another counseling memo rather than move to a letter of reprimand. The reason is that the counseling memo was effective in causing the employee to modify his/her behavior.