Almost all UK employers can count on good conduct from their staff almost all of the time

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

As an employer, dealing with employee conduct comes with the territory. However, it's vital you keep legally compliant when doing so.

Employee lateness and absences can lead to disciplinary action being taken. But there is a procedure and process you must follow. Failure to do so can lead to claims of unfair dismissal being raised against you, leading to reputational damages.

In this guide, we'll discuss why you'd discipline an employee, the process to follow, and the different actions you can hand down.

What is Disciplinary at Work?

Disciplinary at work is when an employer responds to an employee's behaviour. How you deal with discipline in your company is extremely important.

So as an employer, you need to understand when an employee would face disciplinary action.#

When Would You Take Disciplinary Action?

You may start formal disciplinary action against an employee for a number of issues. Such as:

Before taking formal disciplinary action against an employee, you should try and raise the matter informally. For example, minor misconduct can be addressed with a conversation.

As an employer, you want to avoid implementing the formal disciplinary procedure, discussions/warnings still form part of the process.

Different Types of Disciplinary Action

To handle bad behaviour or misconduct successfully, you must understand the disciplinary actions that can be given.

There are different types you can give, for different kinds of scenarios. So, let's discuss them all in more detail.

Verbal or Written Warnings

A verbal warning is the first step of all the disciplinary actions you can give to an employee.

A written warning is a step up from a verbal warning. This would be used if nothing had changed in the period after the verbal warning was given.

A final warning is the most serious form of warning. This would be used as a final step before a dismissal. The employee should be under no illusion of how close they are to being dismissed from your company if things don't change.

You must make a record of all warnings given. They should be kept on the employee's record for the whole time they’re employed with you.

Employee Demotion

Employee demotion is when an employee is reassigned to a lower level within your company. This means less responsibility, with a decreased salary and status.

It is more likely if a recently promoted employee chooses to commit misconduct. Ensure you’re demoting an employee for the correct reasons and other steps haven’t worked.


Termination are the most serious disciplinary actions you can hand down to your employees.

If someone has committed serious or gross misconduct, you may be left with no choice but to terminate their employee contract.

However, there are legal processes you must follow if you dismiss an employee. Getting it wrong could lead to unfair dismissal claims being made against you at an employment tribunal.

As an employer, you need to understand what the full disciplinary procedure is.

What is a Disciplinary Procedure?

A company's disciplinary procedure is the process used when tackling an employee's misconduct. It includes all the possible consequences employees face when committing misconduct.

The disciplinary process should be clear so both employer and employee understand when it's required. You should include the following in your procedure:

  • How many warnings are needed before a final warning or dismissal.
  • The process in which you'll deal with disciplinary matters.
  • A full list of disciplinary actions.
  • What constitutes bad behaviour or misconduct.

Your disciplinary policies and procedures should be included within the employment contract, handbooks or policies.

How Do Disciplinary Procedures Work?

Every employer's disciplinary procedure should follow the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. If yours doesn't, unfair dismissal claims could be raised against you at an employment tribunal. Not having a policy or procedure will make their claim stronger.

Before starting your disciplinary process, you must make the employee aware. You must give them a letter setting out the next steps in the process, and what is expected of them throughout.

There are no time limits to starting your process, but you should adhere to undertake them as quickly as possible.

Disciplinary Investigation

You should always investigate any allegations of misconduct, no matter how small. This should be conducted by a non-related person, and confidentiality must be kept.

This can involve having an informal chat with the employee to see if further disciplinary action is required.

You must make a record of the allegation, and whether you decide further action is needed.

Invitation to a Disciplinary Hearing

If you decide to hold a disciplinary meeting, you should give the employee in question notice in a written statement. Ensure you include details of the allegation, the time and location of the meeting, and how they should prepare.

Make the employee aware they can be accompanied to the meeting by a trade union representative or a work colleague. However, they can't answer questions for them.

Conduct the Disciplinary Hearing

Disciplinary meetings are when both parties get to provide their side of the story of the misconduct. The process is as follows:

  • The employer puts their case forward, presenting any evidence. Such as written evidence and witness statements.
  • The employee puts their own case forward, using their own evidence and any witnesses.
  • Both parties can ask any questions and raise any objections.

You must follow your disciplinary procedure correctly and give the employee a chance to put their side across. Failure to do so is against their employment rights.

Decide on Disciplinary Action

Minor breaches, such as lateness should result in a verbal warning. Whereas more major breaches, such as unsatisfactory performance and misconduct should result in a written warning.

Each event should have a series of warnings before the final outcome if things don’t improve.

If you decide the issue is more serious, you may give your employee a final written warning. This is the last step before you start your dismissal procedures.However, dismissal must be justified.

You should always provide your employees with written confirmation of the disciplinary decision made.

Can an Employee Appeal Against a Disciplinary Decision?

The employee has the right to appeal the decision made after the disciplinary procedure has been carried out (if it is in their contract).

The appeal process should be included in your disciplinary policy. As an employer, you can choose to create your own.

When creating your disciplinary policy, you must remember all employer's disciplinary procedures should comply with the ACAS Code of Practice.

Get Advice on Disciplinary With BrightHR

As an employer, dealing with employee misconduct comes with the territory. However, it's vital you act correctly and follow your disciplinary procedures.

Employee lateness or absences can lead to disciplinary action being taken. But there is a process you must follow, this includes holding a disciplinary meeting.

A Failure to do so can lead to claims of unfair dismissal being raised against you, leading to reputational damages.

BrightHR can help you manage stress with our BrightAdvice helpline. Don’t hesitate to call us if you need any help with tackling work-related stress. Book a free demo today or give us a call on 0800 783 2806

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

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