Disciplinary procedures in the workplace

A disciplinary process is a means by which conduct can be managed in a consistent and fair manner. The purpose of disciplinary action is to change the behaviour or conduct of the employee so that it falls within the standards expected.

Ideally, a company will have their own disciplinary policy. This can help to keep things straightforward and ensure matters are promptly dealt with. If you don’t have a policy, as a minimum the ACAS code of conduct should be followed.

How to conduct a disciplinary hearing at work

The employee must be invited to the disciplinary hearing in writing. At least three days advance notice of the meeting needs to be given. The letter must include the following:

  • the date, time and location of the hearing
  • the name of the manger who will be chairing the hearing
  • the name(s) of any other company representatives who will be present
  • details of the allegation(s) made against the employee
  • the potential outcome of the hearing
  • details regarding the employee’s right to be accompanied (by a work colleague or trade union representative)

The letter will include any copies of the documentation that has been gathered during the investigation as this information will be relied upon during the hearing.

Notes should be taken during the hearing. These will include details of how the manager made the decision in regards to the appropriate sanction.

How to prepare for a disciplinary hearing as an employer

Before the disciplinary hearing, it is essential to familiarised yourself with the details of the case and the investigatory documentation. Preparation is key. Carefully consider and rehearse the questions you wish to put to the employee.  As well as ensuring all the relevant points are covered, this preparation will enable you to manage the meeting with confidence and maintain control.

Disciplinary procedures in the workplace

With any disciplinary proceedings, an independent note taker will always be present. The role of the note taker is ONLY to take minutes of the discussion. The script should contain all the questions posed and the answers of the employee together with any other dialogue.

Emotions may run high. It is important to consider the feelings of those in the meeting and how the employee may react to the allegation that has been made against them. Their explanation may come as a surprise.

How to hold a disciplinary meeting at work

Following an investigation, the disciplinary hearing should be held without unnecessary delay.  The employee must be given a reasonable time period to prepare their case. As mentioned before, a minimum of 3 days’ advance written notice of the disciplinary hearing must be provided. (A company may stipulate a longer notice period in their disciplinary procedures.)

Conducting a meeting with an employee to discuss unsatisfactory conduct is never an easy task. Having doubts and worries about a meeting of this nature is perfectly understandable. Open, honest and unambiguous communication will be essential if the meeting is to succeed.

Remember, the purpose of a disciplinary hearing is to establish the facts, not to catch people out. Keep your approach polite and formal and encourage the employee to speak freely. It is key to establish the facts.

If the employee becomes upset or angry during the disciplinary meeting, it is important to manage this appropriately. Again, if the employee shows signs of being distressed or agitated, allow them time to regain their composure before continuing. In some situations, it may be appropriate to adjourn the meeting and reconvene at a later time. However, do not allow this to result in the issues that need to be discussed being avoided.

Disciplinary sanctions for employees

Before a decision is taken about whether a disciplinary sanction is appropriate, the hearing will need to be adjourned. This adjournment allows time for reflection and proper consideration before making a final decision. What action is reasonable and justified will depend entirely on all the circumstances of that particular case. Careful consideration should be given to:

  • previous sanctions that have been imposed in similar cases
  • the employees disciplinary record (including current warnings and file notes)
  • length of service and experience in the role
  • any special or mitigating circumstances
  • whether any training, additional support or adjustments need to be considered
  • the company policies and procedures that are in place
  • whether the proposed sanction is reasonable

Similar offences will not always call for the same disciplinary action. Each case must be looked at on its own merits.

The level of disciplinary sanction that can be issued as an outcome to the hearing will depend on the severity of the allegation that has been made against the employee. For example, is the case classified as misconduct or gross misconduct?

The following sanctions will usually be adopted as part of the formal disciplinary process:

  • Stage 1 (First Written Warning)
  • Stage 2 (Final Written Warning)
  • Stage 3 (Dismissal)

Alternative sanctions are possible. These may include;

  • Demotion or transfer to another role. If appropriate, reduce salary and benefits accordingly
  • Withhold or defer the receipt of bonus payments or pay rises
  • Issue an “Extended Final Written Warning” (this is recorded on the employee’s personnel file and remains ‘live’ for 12 months)

When an employee is issued with a formal warning they have a right of appeal.

If you need assistance with disciplinary procedures in the workplace, please get in touch. Blossom HR offer free, 30 minute, no obligation consultations. The following articles may also be of interest.

How to conduct investigations at work

How to retain staff

How to deal with difficult staff