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Disciplinary matters

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Most of the time, things go well. But when there is alleged misconduct, whether minor or major, you need to act.

This section deals primarily with matters of misconduct rather than poor performance. If you are dealing with a matter of poor performance, see Dealing with underperformance.

If an employee is in their probationary procedure, you would normally handle any misconduct matter under the probationary procedure rather than the disciplinary procedure. See Induction and probation.

The information provided in this section is an overview of disciplinary matters and does not cover every eventuality. If you are contemplating disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, you are advised to seek advice from a human resources professional or employment lawyer.

Disciplinary procedure

It is vital that you have a disciplinary procedure. You can find a template disciplinary procedure on the Acas website. NCVO members can download an editable template disciplinary procedure.

Informal action

Minor conduct matters, such as lateness, can be dealt with informally by discussing the problem and setting or re-setting standards. A timely word can often resolve conduct matters without the need for formal procedures.

Sometimes we put off having such conversations because they are difficult to have. For assistance, see the Acas guide to having challenging conversations.

Formal action

The following are some examples of matters which will need to be dealt with in a formal manner:

  • Serious misconduct, such as alleged dishonesty, drinking alcohol during working hours or abusive language
  • Repeated minor misconduct

The process you will follow is summarised below and is adapted from the Acas guide to discipline and grievances at work.

Investigation

Where practicable, different people should carry out the investigation and any subsequent disciplinary hearing. If necessary, you may also need to suspend the employee for a short period of time while the investigation is conducted.

The manager investigating the matter will normally need to interview the person against whom the allegation has been made. The manager will also need to interview the person who made the allegation. There may be other people who have been involved as witnesses or have information on the situation - if this is the case, they will need to be interviewed too.

Any documents relevant to the matter should also be reviewed.

When conducting an investigation meeting, you should:

  • ask each employee to say in their own words what they know or witnessed
  • ask questions to prompt the employee as needed
  • summarise what you understand the employee to have said and write it down
  • not give your own view – you are simply gathering information in order to understand the facts
  • give the employee the opportunity to add to or amend the notes of the meeting, then ask the employee to sign the notes
  • thank the employee for their involvement and remind the employee that they should keep the matter confidential.

If the matter is complex, you should produce a factual report summarising the investigation, with any interview notes and relevant documents attached to the report as appendices.

Arranging a formal hearing

If, after investigation, it is concluded that there is a case to answer, a formal disciplinary hearing will need to be convened. The exact complaint and the information to be relied on in the hearing (including all witness statements) should be given in writing to the employee in advance of the hearing. The employee should be informed of their right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative.

Chairing the hearing

The hearing should be chaired by someone other than the person who conducted the investigation.

The meetings may not proceed in neat, orderly stages but it is good practice to:

  • introduce those present to the employee and explain why they are there
  • introduce and explain the role of the accompanying person, if present
  • explain that the purpose of the meeting is to consider whether disciplinary action should be taken in accordance with your organisation’s disciplinary procedure
  • explain how the meeting will be conducted.

Statement of the complaint

State precisely what the complaint is and outline the case briefly by going through the evidence that has been gathered.

Ensure that the employee and their representative or accompanying person are allowed to see any statements made by witnesses and question them.

Employee’s reply

Give the employee the opportunity to state their case and answer any allegations that have been made.

They should be able to ask questions, present evidence and call witnesses. The employee’s companion may also ask questions and should be able to confer privately with the employee. However, the companion cannot answer questions on the employee’s behalf.

Listen carefully and be prepared to wait for an answer as this can be a constructive way of encouraging the employee to be more forthcoming.

General questioning and discussion

You should:

  • use this stage to establish all the facts. Ask the employee if they have any explanation for the alleged misconduct, or if there are any special circumstances to be taken into account
  • bring the proceedings to a close if it becomes clear during this or any other stage that the employee has provided an adequate explanation or there is no real evidence to support the allegation
  • keep the approach formal and polite and encourage the employee to speak freely with a view to establishing the facts. A properly conducted disciplinary meeting should be a two-way process. Use questions to clarify the issues and to check that what has been said is understood. Ask open-ended questions, for example, ‘what happened then?’ to get the broad picture. Ask precise, closed questions requiring a yes/no answer only when specific information is needed
  • not get involved in arguments and don’t make personal or humiliating remarks. Do not give your opinion on the matter at this stage. Avoid physical contact or gestures which could be misinterpreted or misconstrued as judgemental
  • If new facts emerge, it may be necessary to adjourn the meeting to investigate them and reconvene the meeting when this has been done

Summing up

Summarise the main points of the discussion after questioning is completed. This allows all parties to be reminded of the nature of the offence, the arguments and evidence put forward and to ensure nothing is missed. Ask the employee if they have anything further to say. This should help to demonstrate to the employee that they have been treated reasonably.

Adjournment before decision

Adjourn before a decision is taken about whether a disciplinary penalty is appropriate. This allows time for reflection and proper consideration. It also allows for any further checking of any matters raised, particularly if there is any dispute over facts.

Coming to a decision

You should first decide whether on the balance of probabilities, taking due regard of all the facts, the case against the employee is proven. You must consider whether there was a thorough and reasonable investigation which allows you to come to a decision based on sound evidence.

You should then consider:

  • the level of penalty indicated by your disciplinary procedure
  • any special, mitigating circumstances which might make it appropriate to lessen the penalty
  • the employee's disciplinary record, general record, position and length of service
  • whether the employee has any other ‘live’ warnings
  • how the organisation has dealt with any similar cases in the past
  • whether the proposed penalty is reasonable in view of all the circumstances.

Once you have come to a decision, you have two options:

  • You can reconvene the disciplinary hearing and inform the employee, following up with a confirmation letter.
  • You can stop the hearing and send/give the employee a letter with the decision on another day. This may be helpful if you need more time to consider the matter or if feelings are running high.

The employee must be given the right of appeal if you have given a formal warning or notice of dismissal.

Dismissal

If matters do not resolve after earlier warnings, or if the employee has committed an act of potential ‘gross misconduct’, the outcome of your disciplinary hearing may well be dismissal. Before dismissing an employee, you are advised to seek HR or legal advice. For initial advice, you can call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

Further information

Page last edited Jun 28, 2018

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