A necessary step before engaging in any employee counseling is to determine the type of counseling that is appropriate given the situation.
Caveat: In some instances, employment policies or employer handbooks limit the type of action that may be taken - although it is always our recommendation to not limit a potential course of action in such written policies.
There are typically four (4) types of counseling, they are:
(1) Verbal Warning
Typically, a Verbal Warning starts the progressive disciplinary process. It may be either informal or formal, although it is generally understood that the formal variety officially begins the progressive disciplinary process. Formal means that it is properly documented and placed in the employee's personnel file.
(2) First Written Warning
A written warning typically should not be the first time that misconduct or poor performance is brought to the employee's attention.
Its purpose is to bring to the employee's attention ongoing issue(s). It should be issued within the time period designated for monitoring as outlined in a Verbal Warning.
Both the counseling session and the accompanying document should reflect an action plan that is both realistic and supportive. Realistic in the sense that the goals can reasonably be achieved by the average employee. Supportive in the sense that it reflects how the employee will be given the necessary tools to improve, which is why this usually relates to performance-related issues.
(3) Second Written Warning
This type of warning is fundamentally the same as the preceding and it should take place only provided it is necessary. If the First Written Warning was sufficient to correct the behavior or improve the performance, then you can stop there. However, where that isn't the case, progress to a Second Written Warning.
At this point, you should ensure that both the counseling session and the document sufficiently inform the employee of the latest incident giving rise to this warning. It should also convey that a continued failure to make appropriate corrections or improvements will lead to a Final Written Warning and possibly termination. The employee should be able to discern the gravity of the situation if they haven't already. In some instances, this may be enough to finally set them on the right path, but it may also be enough for them to turn in their letter of resignation. As a manager, you should be prepared for this possibility.
(4) Final Written Warning
Similar to the previous two written warnings, the Final Written Warning should be issued as necessary, within a timely manner, and refer to all of the past incidents, including the latest incident. Further it should state the facts that show how the employee was given the necessary tools and goals to correct their behavior or improve their performance, but failed to do so.
The counseling session and the document must provide a timeframe that reestablishes the monitoring period, outline the new tools or goals, as applicable, and give notice that if another incident occurs, it will be sufficient to terminate the company's employment relationship with the employee.
For more, check out our law firm resource e-book:
Documentation is Key: A Manager’s Guide to Effective Counseling (ePub) – HR Legal Logistics
Also available for Kindle via: Documentation is Key: A Manager’s Guide to Effective Counseling (Mobi) – HR Legal Logistics