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Managing the Disciplinary Procedure

This guide is to help you understand the basics of how a disciplinary procedure works and what you need to do to prepare and handle a situation correctly. 

It is crucial for every organisation to have a disciplinary procedure in place with clear guidance for managers and employees on how employee relations issues should be managed. Avoiding mishandled action reduces your risk, costs and damage to reputation. Many tribunal cases are won by employees because the employer has failed to follow the procedure, not necessarily because of wrong doing on the employer’s part. Following the correct procedure protects both businesses and employees.

It is a legal requirement to have a disciplinary procedure and managers and supervisors are responsible for ensuring that each member of staff knows and understands what is expected of them. The procedure can be communicated through the contract of employment, an induction or company handbook.

What behaviours result in a disciplinary?

These are the top behaviours that often result in disciplinary action being taken: 

  • Poor performance
  • Capability
  • Absence and attendance
  • Conduct issues*

(*including breach of procedures or gross misconduct, like substance abuse, theft or neglect)

The key stages in a disciplinary procedure.

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As soon as you become aware of a problem act promptly to establish the facts and investigate thoroughly before deciding on whether to proceed with disciplinary action. You can use various sources, such as employee files, written witness statements, job descriptions, copies of relevant memos, and CCTV footage. Only after fully investigating, can you decide whether to drop the matter, deal with it informally or invite the employee to attend a disciplinary hearing.

Write to your employee

In your letter to your employee you must:

  • Give them at least 24 hours notice of the disciplinary hearing
  • Enclose copies of the investigation evidence 
  • State the nature of the allegations 
  • Notify the employee of their right to be accompanied
  • If you think the employee might be dismissed, you must suspend them on full pay.

Disciplinary hearing

At the meeting, ensure the following:

  • All evidence and investigation notes available
  • A note-taker needs to be present
  • Begin the meeting with introductions and state the role of everyone in the room
  • If the employee is unaccompanied, check they are happy to proceed anyway and that they have received copies of evidence and investigation notes 
  • Advise the employee that they will receive copies of the notes following the meeting
  • Have a plan and prepared questions to ask the employee
  • Allow the individual to state their case and consider any mitigating factors, then call an adjournment before any decision is made.

Adjourn the meeting

During the break, you need to:

  • Consider the seriousness of the offence and whether the procedure offers any guidance
  • Find out if any precedents have been set within the company
  • Check the individual’s disciplinary record
  • Ask yourself if the proposed penalty is reasonable in the circumstances
  • If necessary, postpone the disciplinary meeting for a day or so.

At this stage you need to decide the appropriate sanction under the disciplinary procedure, which may be:

  • A formal written warning (lasting 12 months)
  • A final written warning (lasting 12 months) 
  • Dismissal (with notice) 
  • Summary dismissal (without notice).

There is a right of appeal at all of these stages.


Reconvene disciplinary meeting

At the conclusion of the meeting, you are required to:

  • Advise the employee of your decision and what level of disciplinary action is to be taken, including the life of the warning
  • Cover any improvement that needs to be made 
  • Explain the right of appeal.

You must confirm your decision in writing immediately, file documentation and monitor the employee’s performance.

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Genuine reasons for dismissal

Examples of potentially fair reasons for dismissal:

  • Capability 
  • Conduct
  • Redundancy
  • Contravention of a statutory duty
  • Retirement
  • Some other substantial reason

You would need to show that dismissal is for one of these reasons and it is a reasonable response.

Unfair reasons for dismissal

The list of these is lengthy but includes:

  • Discrimination because of pregnancy and family friendly rights
  • National minimum wage
  • Trade union issues

It is essential that you are clear about the specific reason for your action. In the event that the employee registers a claim, a tribunal would examine this. You must show that the decision to dismiss is a reasonable one based on the evidence available.
The important points to remember in any disciplinary procedure:

  • Investigate fully and consider suspension
  • The employee has a right to be accompanied
  • Act reasonably, consistently and take care not to set new precedents
  • Consider each case on its own merits and don’t pre-judge
  • Employees should be made aware of the right to appeal 
  • Always follow company disciplinary procedure

This guide should have helped you to understand the basics of a disciplinary procedure, but every situation is different and often complex. Our Empire HR advice line team of fully trained advisors are on hand to give you practical, friendly advice when you need it.

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