Law guide: Workplace

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Disciplinary procedures

Disciplinary procedures

Disciplinary procedures

Employers use disciplinary procedures to tell employees that their performance or conduct isn't up to the expected standard and to encourage improvement.

What is a disciplinary procedure?

A disciplinary procedure is sometimes the best way for your employer to tell you when something is wrong. It allows them to explain clearly what improvement is needed and should give you an opportunity to put your side of the situation.

Your employer must put their disciplinary procedure in writing, and make it easily available to you (e.g. by giving details in the staff handbook). It should include the rules, what performance and behaviour might lead to disciplinary action, and what action your employer might take.

By law, there are certain minimum steps that must be included in a disciplinary procedure - these are known as the statutory disciplinary, dismissal and grievance procedures and are set out in the Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2004 ('the SDDG procedures'). These include:

  • Receiving a letter from your employer outlining the reason why they are considering disciplinary action against you.
  • Being invited to a private meeting (sometimes called a hearing) to discuss the reasons. You should be given enough time to prepare for the meeting. You are entitled to bring a colleague or trade union representative to the meeting (or, you can ask your employer to allow someone else to attend with you, but they don't have to agree.)
  • Being informed of the outcome of the meeting.
  • Being informed of your right to appeal the decision. If you appeal, you will be entitled to bring a colleague or trade union representative with you and it ideally should be dealt with by a different or more senior manager.

The Labour Relations Agency has produced advice on handling discipline and grievance at work. If your employer dismisses you without following this process, then if you make an unfair dismissal claim, the dismissal will normally be 'automatically unfair'. You normally need at least a year's service before you can make an unfair dismissal claim.

On top of the statutory minimum procedures, there are other steps that an employer would be expected to take in order to be reasonable. The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) have produced a code of practice on disciplinary procedures. You can't take your employer to an Industrial Tribunal just because they haven't followed the code, but if you make an unfair dismissal claim, the code can be taken into account.

If your employer has laid down a disciplinary procedure that forms a part of your contract then you could sue for breach of contract if they haven't followed it.

During a disciplinary procedure, if your employer does anything which seems unreasonable, you should tell them (in writing) and suggest ways to solve the problem. They may decide to carry on the procedure anyway, in which case, you might decide to use the issue as grounds for an appeal.

If you face disciplinary action, and aren't sure what to do, you can always get advice about your rights. The LRA and your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) provide free and unbiased advice, and you may be able to get help from a union if you're a member.

Informal steps

Before taking formal disciplinary action, your employer may try and raise the matter informally with you first of all. This is often a good way of resolving a problem quickly.

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