Law guide: Employment

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Disciplinary procedure

Disciplinary procedure

Disciplinary procedure

It is important for every business to have a disciplinary procedure in place which is fair and accessible to all employees. The procedure should be referred to in the contract of employment (although not necessarily form part of it). All employees should be aware of its existence and what it is about.

Your rules and procedures must:

Failure to meet either of these requirements may result in extra compensation for the employee if they succeed in a tribunal claim.

Setting out disciplinary rules

Draw up rules to set the standards of conduct and performance required. Make sure your rules are fair, clearly written and reflect the needs of your business.

Rules can help:

  • Your workforce to understand what you expect of them
  • You act fairly and consistently
  • Contain and resolve issues
  • Avoid potential tribunal complaints

A disciplinary procedure is the means by which rules are observed and standards are maintained. The procedure should be fair, effective, and consistently applied.

The rules should not discriminate on the grounds of sex, race, gender reassignment status, marital or civil partnership status, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy and maternity, age, religion or belief (England, Wales and Scotland) or religious belief or political opinion (Northern Ireland).

You cannot expect to list everything that might lead to disciplinary action, but you should cover:

  • Absence without leave
  • Discrimination, bullying and harassment
  • Health and safety
  • Personal appearance
  • Prohibited activities
  • Smoking, alcohol and drugs
  • Work standards
  • Timekeeping
  • Use of company facilities and equipment, including IT systems

The procedure should specify a suitable warning process, such as:

  • Informal discussions
  • Oral warning
  • Written warning that further misconduct will lead to dismissal

Gross misconduct

The policy should also set out behaviour which will be treated as being so serious that it is likely to lead to dismissal without notice – gross misconduct. Examples of conduct that will be regarded as gross misconduct should be provided, such as:

  • Harassment/bullying
  • Drunkenness/drug abuse
  • Fighting at work
  • Fraud
  • Gross negligence/insubordination
  • Serious breaches of health and safety
  • Theft
  • Use of foul language to clients/customers

It should be made clear that the list is not meant to be exhaustive.

What counts as gross misconduct varies depending on the type of business, the role of the employee and the circumstances of the incident(s).

Informal and formal disciplinary action

Informal action

If an employee's performance or conduct does not meet your standards, you should try to help that employee to improve. Have an informal discussion with the employee as soon as problems arise, explain the problem and agree actions with them. This kind of informal chat is not part of any formal disciplinary procedure.

If the employee's poor conduct or performance persists, you may have to take formal disciplinary action.

Formal disciplinary action

When applying formal procedures, employers should always ensure that they treat the employee fairly and comply with the formal procedures. A full and proper investigation should be conducted before deciding whether or not to take disciplinary action. The graver the ramifications of dismissal to an employee, the more meticulous the investigation should be into the alleged misconduct.

Employees should be:

  • Informed in writing of the allegations made against them
  • Provided with any supporting evidence in advance of a disciplinary meeting
  • Informed of their right to be accompanied to a disciplinary hearing by a trade union representative or work colleague
  • Given the opportunity to challenge the allegations before decisions are reached
  • Informed in writing of the decision
  • Given and informed of a right to appeal

See our article 'Which disciplinary and dismissal procedures must I follow?' for more information.

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