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HR Operations

Corrective action

The objective of corrective action is to correct and resolve employee performance problems in order to retain the employee as a productive staff member.

Whenever possible, the corrective action process should be a positive collaboration between the supervisor and employee to achieve necessary improvement rather than a punitive action against the employee.

Supervisors can encourage employee job success by:

  • Establishing and communicating clear standards for successful performance
  • Identifying job performance or behavior that does not meet standards and offering feedback in a timely manner
  • Creating clear action plans to help employees achieve successful performance
This guide

This corrective action guide helps supervisors:

  • Understand the “just cause” standard for corrective action
  • Make fair and equitable decisions regarding corrective action
  • Apply the corrective action approach when addressing employee performance concerns
Employees covered by this guide

The progressive corrective action process applies to all contract classified and classified non-union staff.

Employees not covered by this guide

Professional staff are employed “at will” and are not covered by this progressive corrective action process. Professional staff appointments can be modified or ended for any reason that does not unlawfully discriminate against the employee or violate public policy. Even without required progressive steps, good performance management principles encourage timely, appropriate feedback and documentation. Contact your HR consultant when considering professional staff corrective action.

Classified employees still in their probationary or trial service period are not covered under the progressive corrective action process. Contact your HR consultant regarding probationary or trial service performance concerns that are not resolved by counseling and coaching.

“Just cause” standard

Corrective action for classified non-union and contract classified staff must meet the “just cause” standard.

Use the following six factors to assess whether there is just cause for corrective action in a given situation:

  • Adequate notification of performance or conduct issues
  • Reasonable expectations and standards
  • Fair and objective investigation
  • Substantial evidence
  • Consistent treatment
  • Appropriateness of corrective measures

Failure to meet these six just cause factors can result in a corrective action decision being reversed or appealed if challenged.

Adequate notification

An employee must be:

  • Adequately notified that their performance or behavior is unacceptable
  • Advised of the potential consequences for failing to meet performance or behavioral expectations (including possible corrective action)

For example, notification of unacceptable conduct could be provided through making employees aware of published performance or behavioral standards (such as a University policy or departmental procedure) or through previous counseling or coaching regarding that behavior.

However, some behaviors are so unacceptable (such as theft or violence) that corrective action, including dismissal, may be warranted even without prior notice.

Reasonable expectations and standards

The department’s policies, procedures, practices, standards, and work rules must be reasonably related to efficient and safe operations.

Fair and objective investigation

The performance or behavioral issue must be properly investigated prior to taking corrective action.

A fair and objective fact-finding investigation includes gathering some or all of the following information:

  • Date and time the incident or problem occurred
  • Location of the incident or event
  • List of other people who may have been involved or who witnessed the event
  • Statements from witnesses or participants, as well as from the employee under investigation
  • Documents or records related to the incident
  • Assessment of the impact of the employee’s unsatisfactory performance or behavior on other people, the department, and the University
Substantial evidence

The investigation must reveal substantial evidence of the employee’s responsibility for the performance issue or offense.

Consistent treatment

Performance expectations, standards, and corrective actions should be applied evenhandedly. Employees in similar situations should be treated comparably. Be sure to review past practices so that you can remain consistent in your response to performance issues with all of your employees.

Appropriateness of corrective measures

A corrective measure must match the seriousness of the offense. Additionally, you must take the individual’s employment and performance history into account. In other words, minor offenses and first occurrences typically warrant less severe action. Major offenses and repeated occurrences typically warrant stronger action.

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Informal counseling

The first step in correcting performance is usually informal counseling. In most cases, it is appropriate to see if coaching, counseling, and retraining can bring performance up to a satisfactory level.

Feedback is typically given by talking directly with the employee. You should follow up with a simple written action plan or an email summarizing the discussion and action items.

Consider the following questions early on when an employee is not performing satisfactorily:

  • Does the employee clearly understand their job duties and responsibilities?
  • Does the employee clearly understand behavioral expectations?
  • Does the employee clearly understand University and departmental policies and procedures?
  • Does the employee have the skills and knowledge necessary to meet the competencies required for their position?
  • Have the employee’s job-related concerns been considered (if such concerns have been expressed to you)?

If the answer to any of the questions above is “no,” work with the employee to clear up any confusion. If necessary, help the employee find training or education to develop the required competencies needed in their job. Turning the “no” answers into “yes” answers may be all it takes to get the employee back on track to meeting performance expectations.

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Formal counseling

Formal counseling is appropriate if:

  • Informal counseling did not resolve the performance issue
  • The issue is serious enough that it warrants skipping informal counseling
Steps of formal counseling
  1. Work with your HR consultant to:
    1. Draft an Corrective Action Plan Instructions and Form (MS Word) that:
      • Identifies each performance and behavioral problem
      • Specifies the desired performance or behavior
      • Outlines the actions necessary to correct the problem(s)
      • Provides a reasonable time frame for correction
    2. Prepare a Formal Counseling Memo Scheduling Notice (MS Word) for the employee that confirms the meeting and informs the employee of their right to representation at the meeting.
  1. Send the notice to the employee and schedule the formal counseling meeting. Your HR consultant must also attend this meeting.
  1. Conduct the formal counseling meeting in private and as a collaborative effort between you and the employee to improve performance. In this conversation, you should:
    1. Focus on the specific performance or behavioral issue(s) rather than the employee’s attitude or personality.
    2. Summarize the findings of the investigation (if an investigation was conducted).
    3. Review any policy that has been violated.
    4. Explain clearly why the behavior or performance is a concern, including how it is impacting operations and other employees. Use direct and descriptive examples.
    5. Explain clearly the expected performance or behavior.
    6. Describe what will happen next if the performance is not corrected.
    7. Allow the employee an opportunity to respond to your comments.
    8. Review the drafted action plan and allow the employee to give input on the action plan. Revise the plan as needed.
    9. Schedule regular check-in meetings to provide feedback during the action plan’s timeline.
  1. Follow up the formal counseling meeting with a Formal Counseling Session Follow-Up Memo (MS Word) and finalized action plan. The memo and plan should be reviewed by your HR consultant prior to sending them to the employee.
  1. Review the employee’s action plan continually and give feedback on the employee’s progress toward performance improvement. Document all feedback.

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Final counseling

Final counseling is the last corrective action step prior to dismissal. Final counseling may be appropriate if:

  • Formal counseling did not resolve the performance issue
  • The issue is serious enough that it warrants skipping formal counseling
Steps of final counseling
  1. Work with your HR consultant to:
    1. Review the employee’s formal counseling action plan (if this final counseling meeting is a follow-up to an earlier formal counseling meeting). Identify any continuing performance concerns and the actions required to correct them.
    2. Develop a final action plan — or revise the formal counseling action plan (if there was one).
    3. Prepare a Final Counseling Memo Scheduling Notice (MS Word) for the employee that confirms the meeting and informs the employee of their right to representation at the meeting.
  1. Send the meeting notice to the employee and schedule the final counseling meeting. Your HR consultant must also attend this meeting.
  1. Conduct the final counseling meeting in private and as a collaborative effort between you and the employee to improve performance. In this conversation, you should:
    1. Explain clearly the behavior or performance that continues to be a concern.
    2. Explain clearly the expected performance or behavior.
    3. Allow the employee an opportunity to respond to your comments.
    4. Review the action plan and allow the employee to give input. Revise the plan as needed.
    5. Provide a reasonable time frame for the employee to improve their performance or behavior, if applicable. (Some behavior must simply not be repeated, so the time frame is “immediate and sustained.”)
    6. Explain clearly that if the employee fails to meet expectations within the designated time frame, the next step is dismissal.
  1. Draft a Final Counseling Follow-Up Memo (MS Word) and final action plan. The memo and action plan must be reviewed by your HR consultant prior to finalizing and sending them to the employee.
  1. Schedule regular check-in meetings to provide feedback during the action plan’s timeline.
  1. Review the employee’s action plan and give feedback continually on the employee’s progress toward performance improvement. Document all feedback.

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Dismissal

Dismissal is appropriate if the employee’s performance or behavior:

  • Doesn’t improve with progressive corrective action
  • Is so severe or unacceptable that progressive corrective action is not appropriate

Contact your HR consultant when you determine that dismissal may be appropriate. Work closely with your HR consultant through every step of the dismissal process.

Steps for dismissal
  1. Work with your HR consultant to:
    1. Prepare a Recommendation for Dismissal (MS Word) letter, stating the reasons you are recommending the employee be dismissed. Your HR consultant is responsible for obtaining appropriate legal and internal review of the dismissal recommendation letter.
    2. Prepare the predetermination meeting memo to the employee, advising them of the recommended dismissal. The memo should also state that the employee can:
      • Bring representation with them to the meeting
      • Present information orally or in writing as to why they shouldn’t be dismissed
  1. Send the predetermination meeting memo to the employee. Be sure to follow any notice timelines required by the employee’s collective bargaining agreement, if applicable.
  1. Forward the recommendation for dismissal letter to your appointing authority (dean, vice president, vice provost, medical center CEO, or delegated official).
  1. Conduct the predetermination meeting. You (or your appointing authority or designee), your HR consultant, the employee, and the employee’s representative of choice should all attend. During the meeting, allow the employee or the employee’s representative to provide any information the employee believes the appointing authority (or designee) should consider prior to making a decision on the recommendation to dismiss.
  1. Review the employee’s written or oral response to the dismissal recommendation after the meeting. With your HR consultant, determine whether to proceed with dismissal. If the decision is to dismiss, your HR consultant prepares an action letter. An action letter is the official notice of dismissal and must be signed by the appointing authority.
  1. Deliver the action letter in person to the employee. Arrange to have another individual present to witness the delivery of the letter. Document the names of both the person who delivers the action letter to the employee and the person who witnesses the delivery, as well as the date and time of the delivery. If an in-person delivery is not possible because the employee is not at work, the action letter must be sent by certified regular mail to the employee’s most recent address of record.
  1. Work with your HR consultant to complete all remaining steps related to the employee’s separation.

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Additional resources

UW policies
Civil service rules (classified non-union staff)

Collective bargaining agreements

Professional Staff Program

Employees needing support regarding corrective action can contact their HR consultant or the Office of Ombud.

Benefits-eligible employees having personal issues affecting their job performance can contact UW CareLink, the University’s employee assistance program, which provides confidential counseling.

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