Disciplinary at Work

Understand disciplinary procedures and how to handle them

Managers and employers often work hard to ensure their employees work effectively and happily in their workplace. However, sometimes an employee’s behaviour can interfere with business as usual.

This can include affecting their own working habits or disrupting an entire workplace, reducing productivity and profits.

A disciplinary at work is a formal acknowledgement of such employee misconduct. Misconduct can involve concerns about an employee’s workplace conduct, such as poor behaviour or frequent absences.

Handling misconduct can be difficult and depends on the severity of the misconduct. In many cases, the misconduct of an employee merits action by the employer. This can vary between informal one-to-ones to termination of employment.

Mishandling disciplinaries can result in employment tribunals and create problems for employees. These include low morale and potentially have employees leave the business.

Before understanding how to handle them, it’s important to know what actions employers can take.

What is a disciplinary action?

Disciplinary action can take different forms. Generally, it is a reprimand or corrective action in response to employee misconduct. Employee misconduct can also include rule violations, poor performance, and negative behaviour.

There is a clear distinction between formal and informal actions, which each merit different responses.

Formal actions require disciplinary notice. Informal actions can include one-to-one discussions or warnings. However, formal actions can also result in warnings.

Naturally, it benefits employers and employees to begin with informal actions. Informal actions can serve as the only necessary actions to address minor misconduct. It is also significantly less time consuming than formal actions.

Depending on the severity of the misconduct, formal actions can include:

  • Warnings: unlike informal actions, you need to make a record of formal warnings. These include verbal and written warnings.
  • Performance improvement plan: less severe misconduct may call for an improvement plan. This can include further training due to poor performance.
  • Loss of position or privileges: an employer can demote an employee. This action is more likely if a recently promoted employee misconducts. Less severe may call for a loss of privileges, such as special parking permits or bonus pay.
  • Loss of salary: similar to a loss of privileges, severe misconduct may call for a reduced salary. However, if this is done as a sanction, it would need to be specified in policy.
  • Temporary or permanent removal: for severe or gross misconduct, you may suspend or terminate an employee’s employment. If due to gross misconduct, these actions don’t always require written warnings

There are no strict time limits for disciplinary actions, but it should all be as soon as is reasonably possible. However, if any actions call for disciplinary investigations or a hearing, you must provide written notice.

Failure to do so removes the employee’s ability to prepare or defend themselves. This would count towards unfair dismissal in an employment tribunal.

Disciplinary policy

Employers’ may create their own policies. They should follow the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures when creating disciplinary policies.

Generally speaking, an employer can choose how to establish policies to handle misconduct. For example, it is not uncommon for a decision for early termination when an employee steals company property.

This is because misconduct like stealing is gross misconduct, which often merits immediate termination without notice.

Handling disciplinaries requires understanding the facts surrounding any misconducts or potential dismissals. To avoid issues like an employment tribunal, employers should establish a disciplinary and grievance procedure.

What is a disciplinary procedure in the UK?

Employers must ensure their procedure follows ACAS disciplinary procedure. Failure to do so can result in further issues during employment tribunals.

Disciplinary procedure steps include:

  • Establish an understanding: this step includes establishing both the misconduct and the action suggested.
  • Investigate: this step aims to confirm allegations or reports made against an employee.
  • Invitation: this step gives an employee notice of a disciplinary meeting. This clarifies the scheduled time of the meeting and what are the expected actions of the employees. Notice of the meeting must include what the allegations against them are as well as evidence proving such.
  • Conduct the meeting: this step involves the disciplinary meeting itself, in which the employee may bring representation.
  • Deciding disciplinary action: depending on severity, this step can occur within the meeting. For example, gross misconduct leading to immediate termination. It is always advisable not to make any decisions at the meeting. However, most meetings will reserve the action to take until afterwards, for due consideration.
  • Confirm the outcome: confirmation of a disciplinary meeting, including actions to take, must be in writing.
  • Right to appeal: confirm that the employee has the right to appeal against any decision made.

Regarding disciplinary procedure timescales, the ACAS disciplinary procedure doesn’t state that there is any specific legal timescale. However, the appeal process and disciplinary process must not have any unreasonable delays.

Disciplinary hearings

Employers must ensure that all hearings are fair. Failure to do so can result in employment tribunals, especially if the result of a hearing is a dismissal.

If an employment tribunal deems that the hearing process or the disciplinary procedure is unfair, hefty fines and punishments can follow for employers.

To ensure a hearing is fair, disciplinary hearing questions can include:

  • Confirmation of allegations: the employee can confirm whether they have received details in writing of the allegations.
  • Do you understand the allegations?: the employee can confirm whether they understand the nature of and the consequences of the allegations.
  • Do you understand this procedure?: the employee can confirm whether they have access to your organisation’s disciplinary procedure.
  • Do you have any witnesses or statements?: the employee can confirm whether they have any disciplinary hearing witness statements.

After a hearing, the decision should remain on record for at least six months. However, the severity of the misconduct can alter this though, as anything beyond a final written warning might remain on an employee’s record permanently.

Any outcome of meetings or hearings must remain confidential. The only exception would be the employer discussing it with any other employees who were aware of the hearing. However, this excludes discussions for the wrong reasons, such as gossip.

If they choose to, an employer may remove records of disciplinary actions along with corresponding corrective actions.

Get help with disciplinaries at work with BrightHR

While it’s never comfortable addressing employee misconduct, an employer needs to know how to conduct and handle policies and processes.

Even when coming to a disciplinary decision, you can still fall into pitfalls. Whether it’s legal consequences, such as employment tribunals, or simply lower morale for employees, workplace disciplinaries can create problems down the road.

BrightHR has the resources available to help, including our HR management software. BrightAdvice provides expert legal advice and our specialists are always available to discuss your situation. Call us today on 0800 470 2432.


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