It is imperative for employers to have a well-defined and fair disciplinary process in place to protect and maintain a safe, secure, and productive work environment for employees.
But what is the purpose of a disciplinary procedure, and how is it used?
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What disciplinary procedures are and why they’re necessary
- The ACAS Code of Practice
- Common disciplinary procedures
- A step-by-step guide to disciplinary procedures (7 steps).
Let’s get started!
Understanding Disciplinary Procedures
What Are Disciplinary Procedures?
Disciplinary procedures are a variety of different actions a company may take against an employee who has breached part of their contract or behaved inappropriately in the workplace.
This can include informal conversations, written notices, comprehensive investigations, and — in some cases — the termination of a person’s employment.
The specific policies and procedures of an organisation, the severity of the misconduct, and the type of issues will determine which procedures are used.
Why Are They Necessary?
Disciplinary procedures allow for a transparent and straightforward process for addressing any and all types of issues or complaints within a workplace.
This ensures that all employees are being treated equally and held to the same standards. This also reduces the possibility of legal disputes for both the employer and the employee.
ACAS Code of Practice
The Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in the United Kingdom has established a set of guidelines known as the ACAS Code of Practice.
This code offers practical advice for employers, workers, and union representatives about how to manage disciplinary and grievance problems in the working environment.
Common Disciplinary Procedures
In some cases, minor misconduct may not always necessitate the enforcement of formal procedures.
Often, the issue can be quickly and easily resolved with a discussion around expectations and standards of behaviour, as well as supplemented with additional training where applicable.
Serious offences such as stealing, violence, extreme negligence, or blatant insubordination can be considered gross misconduct.
If an employee commits a serious breach of their contract, they can be dismissed without notice so long as the correct procedure is followed.
Examining an employee’s capability with regard to misconduct entails analysing their capacity to carry out their job responsibilities or comply with the expected standards of behaviour in the workplace.
Should the employee’s behaviour be deemed inappropriate and result in concerns regarding their ability to do their job, it may be essential to conduct a capability assessment to determine the most appropriate disciplinary actions.
Step-by-Step Guide to Disciplinary Procedures
1. Identify and Understand the Issue
If the employer has reasonable cause to suspect misconduct or substandard performance, it is important to collect as many details as possible about the issue.
This includes the nature of the behaviour, when it occurred, who was involved, and the impact it has had on the workplace.
After the issue has been identified, it is important for the employer to clarify and explain it in a clear and precise manner.
This may involve identifying the specific policy or procedure that’s been breached, and the specific performance standards applicable to the employee's contract that have not been met.
2. Ensure a Fair Procedure is Followed
The employee should be given the chance to explain their own account of the situation and also given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
It should also be ensured that they have the right to have a colleague or union representative with them at any disciplinary meetings. They should be treated in a fair, professional manner until the matter is resolved.
3. Conduct a Thorough Investigation
If it appears that the issue is serious and cannot be addressed through an informal discussion, it may be necessary to commence a proper investigation.
Establishing the facts of the case may involve acquiring evidence, questioning any potential witnesses, and other appropriate investigative activities.
4. Decide On the Outcome
First Level of Warning
This will normally be either:
- An improvement note issued as a consequence of the performance not meeting acceptable standards.
This document will provide information about any performance issues, the necessary improvements, deadlines, assistance that may be provided, and the ability to appeal
- A first warning for misconduct if the conduct does not meet acceptable standards for the above.
This document shall be recorded in writing and will set out the misconduct, the expected modification in behaviour, and the right to appeal.
This warning will also notify you that a final written warning may be given in the event that there is no sustained, satisfactory improvement or change.
Final Written Warning
After an employee has received their first warning, a written warning will be given as a final measure if their conduct or performance is still not at the expected level.
This is often the last step taken before a dismissal from employment as a result of disciplinary proceedings.
Like a first warning, this document should be illustrated in writing and clearly set out the misconduct, the expected modification in behaviour, and the employee's right to appeal.
If, after adhering to this process, the employer has concluded that dismissal is the suitable course of action, they must provide the employee with a written declaration that details the reasons for dismissal, the effective date of the dismissal, and their right to appeal against the decision.
The employer should take extra precautions to ensure that they abide by the Equality Act 2010 and the provisions set out in the procedure guidelines stated by ACAS in order to prevent any possible claims of unfair dismissal or discrimination.
5. Hold a Disciplinary Meeting or Hearing
If the investigation yields evidence indicating that the employee has some form of culpability, the employer should request that they attend a disciplinary meeting or hearing.
This is a meeting in which the employer will listen to all the evidence and make their final decision.
6. Communicate the Outcome to the Employee
Following the hearing, it is imperative that the employee is informed of what will take place next, the timeline for the next steps, and that a written and confidential record of the hearing is taken.
As soon as a decision has been made, the employer must supply the employee with a written conclusion of the situation provided in a timely manner.
7. Allow for Follow-Up and Support
By law, an employee or worker is permitted to attend a disciplinary hearing with another person of their choosing.
This companion can either be a colleague from the workplace, a representative from the trade union who has had the appropriate certification or training, or an employee from the union itself.
Employers can permit companions who are not included in any of the aforementioned categories, but they are not obligated to do so.
One example of a clause that might be included in some employment contracts is the allowance for a professional support body, such as a spouse or legal representative.
The Bottom Line
Employers should make sure they have a well-defined and easily understood disciplinary procedure, and should also ensure that all employees are well aware of it.
The procedure should be clear about the measures that need to be taken in the case of misconduct or inadequate performance, and also clearly state the potential sanctions that could be administered.
Not only are they important for the employer in setting out a workplace’s ethics and expected conduct, but they protect employees, too.
It ensures everyone is treated equally – preventing discrimination and favouritism – while also aiding in the prevention of unjustified dismissal.
The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.