We’ve all heard of the term ‘disciplinary’, but for those who are new to employing staff or you’ve been lucky enough not to have encountered a problem so far, what does it actually mean in the world of work?
Well a disciplinary is part of the process you follow when your business wants to address an employee’s behaviour. You may be concerned about their work, general conduct or an unauthorised absence.
The word “disciplinary” typically refers to the hearing itself. This is the meeting at which both sides (employee and company) present their cases about the matter, but it is only a part of the whole disciplinary procedure.
The disciplinary procedure
Your business’s disciplinary procedure should be clearly detailed in your employee handbook. Poorly handled disciplinary processes can result in accusations of unfair dismissal, which may need to be handled by an employment tribunal. So it’s vital that you have a well-written procedure that you closely adhere to.
It should set out what actions will be taken if company rules are broken and also detail what the disciplinary process entails. This includes the various levels of disciplinary action, such as verbal or written warnings, disciplinary hearings and final written warnings. It should also explicitly state what behaviour constitutes gross misconduct and how an employee can appeal any disciplinary decisions.
What happens before a disciplinary?
If a minor misdemeanour has been committed, then the employee’s manager or director may choose to have an informal chat with them about it. This is often sufficient to deal with the issue. However, where it’s something more serious, then formal disciplinary action is typically taken.
If it’s a serious matter, or one that might be construed as gross misconduct, then the business may first wish to establish the facts. To do this, you may choose to suspend the employee while you investigate further.
Once the investigation is complete you would summon them to the disciplinary hearing, advising them that they have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or one of their work colleagues at the hearing. You should outline the case against them and the possible consequences, providing them with any written evidence. This gives them a fair chance to prepare their response to the allegations in advance of the hearing.
The disciplinary hearing
At the disciplinary hearing, the company will put forward its case, present any evidence and hear from any witnesses. The employee then gets a chance to respond to the allegations and put forward their own case. They can present their own evidence to back up their arguments. The employee should be permitted to ask any questions and to raise objections to evidence or information provided by the company and witnesses.
After the disciplinary meeting
After considering all the evidence presented, you should decide whether or not any sanctions will be issued or any disciplinary action will be taken.
For unsatisfactory performance or misconduct, it is typical to give a written warning. Failure to improve within a specified timescale would then result in a final written warning.
If the issue is serious enough, and if it is in line with your own company disciplinary procedure, then you may decide to proceed to a final written warning at this stage.
If the behaviour is repeated despite a final warning, then the decision may be made to dismiss the employee. Equally, any behaviour that is deemed to be gross misconduct under your company’s own policies can be dealt with by dismissal without any prior warnings.
You should inform the employee in writing of your decision. They have the right to appeal the decision, as long as they following the company’s process for doing this.
It’s important that you keep written records of any disciplinary issues, including dates, details and copies of communications sent to the employee.
It’s probably not often that you will have to deal with a disciplinary issue in your company. But if you do, following a fair disciplinary procedure, conducting a sound investigation and holding an objective hearing will safeguard your company against claims of unfair dismissal and prevent costly employment tribunals.