Having a clear disciplinary process in place allows managers to deal with problems in the workplace quickly and efficiently. It also gives employees clear guidelines on how to behave, so they can avoid any potential disciplinary issues.

But when it comes to actually getting a procedure in place, it can all get a bit confusing, which is why we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to disciplinaries for you to follow.

Informal Action

If it’s the first time an issue has occurred, often no formal disciplinary action needs to be taken. If the issue is minor, a manager pulling the employee aside and having a quiet word in their ear can be enough to resolve things. Even informal conversations like this should still be followed up with an email that’s kept in the employee’s personnel file so that there is a record of the incident. It’s not a written or even a formal warning – just an acknowledgement of the issue and letting the employee know that their conduct needs improving.

If the issue doesn’t improve even after that informal chat, then it’s time to move forward to a more formal disciplinary procedure.

The Disciplinary Procedure Step By Step

In the UK there is an organisation called Acas, which is short for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. They are a part of the Department for Business and Trade, and they exist to help make the working world better for everyone. This includes providing strict guidance on how a disciplinary of any size or shape should be done, which consists of 6, well-defined, steps.

Step 1: Understanding The Options

Disciplinaries are a formal process for dealing with misconduct or capability of employees. But before you start down this route, it’s important to see if the problem can be resolved in a more informal way. As we mentioned above, having a private talk with the employee in question, and listening to their point of view can be a good way to start this. It’s important that this conversation ends with an agreement on improvements to be made, and if needed, a training and development plan to improve performance. If the issue is more about the employee’s ability to do their job, then this should be handled under a capability plan including support, training, and encouragement.

There are generally 3 reasons a disciplinary would come about:

Misconduct: The inappropriate action or behaviour of an employee, or the breaking of workplace rules. This includes things like:

  • Bullying
  • Harassment
  • Refusing to do work (insubordination)
  • Excessive absence
  • Being absent without permission

Each workplace will have its own examples, but these are the most common.

Misconduct Outside the Workplace: In some cases, an employee could face disciplinary action for their conduct even if the conduct was done outside of the workplace. For example, we have handled cases of employees smoking marijuana on a break in an alley, while they were working on a nearby site. A local resident then called the company to complain, identifying who they worked for by their uniforms. In this case, even though the employees were smoking off company property and off the clock, their conduct still reflected poorly on the company, and so a disciplinary was conducted.

In these cases, whether or not you hold a disciplinary investigation depends on how seriously you as the employer see the misconduct, and whether it could have a negative impact on the business.

Gross Misconduct: More serious cases of misconduct that can have a major impact on the company and its employees, or are classed as crimes. Some examples of this would be:

  • Fraud
  • Physical violence
  • Serious lack of care for their duties to others
  • Serious insubordination (for example refusing to take reasonable orders from a supervisor)

Again, your business will have its own examples of what is considered gross misconduct.

Step 2: Following A Fair Procedure

If you have tried to resolve the issue informally with no success, then it is time to start the formal disciplinary process. You need to inform the employee that you are doing this right away, in writing. Your notice needs to include:

  • Details about the issue, including sufficient information about the alleged misconduct or poor performance.
  • Possible consequences, for example, a written warning.

You need to provide this to the employee so that they have enough time to prepare for a disciplinary hearing, where they will meet with you to discuss the evidence and a decision will be made.

You as an employer must follow a fair process all the way through, keeping the Acas guidelines in mind.  Keep up communication to ensure there are no misunderstandings, a drop in morale or legal action further down the line. If the employee decides to raise a grievance during the disciplinary procedure (which happens more often than you would think), then you should pause the disciplinary to deal with the grievance unless to two are related. And if the employee wants to resign (otherwise known as the ‘jump before you’re pushed’ mentality), then you should try to talk through any concerns with the employee and encourage them to complete the disciplinary procedure first.

Step 3: Carrying Out An Investigation

Now you must carry out an investigation and collect as much information as you can about the employee’s alleged misconduct or poor performance. This can include reports, CCTV footage, interviews with employees or clients, emails, or any other evidence that is relevant to the concern at hand. The more thorough you are at this stage, the less likely the outcome will be challenged.

It’s important to note that sometimes the investigation may leave you with nothing or provide evidence that there is no need for further action. In this case, the disciplinary process can be concluded.

Step 4: The Disciplinary Hearing

If the evidence you gather shows that the employee has a case to answer, then it’s time to bring the employee in for a disciplinary hearing. This is when the employer hears all of the evidence and the employee’s side and makes a final decision.

To make sure the employee has enough time to prepare for the hearing, you should inform them in writing of:

  • The alleged misconduct or performance issue
  • Any evidence from the investigation
  • Any other information you plan to talk about
  • The date and time of the hearing
  • Information on the employee’s right to be accompanied to the hearing
  • The possible outcomes

Employees are, by law, allowed to bring someone with them to their disciplinary hearing. Specifically, this could be:

  • A work colleague,
  • A workplace trade union representative who is trained in acting as a companion
  • An official employed by a trade union

If the employee wants to bring someone outside of those groups to the hearing (for example a partner, legal representative), it is at the employer’s discretion.

In the hearing itself, the employer should:

  • Explain the issue
  • Go through the evidence
  • Make sure someone takes notes

The employee should be given the chance to:

  • Set out their case
  • Answer any allegations
  • Ask questions
  • Show evidence
  • Call relevant witnesses (with good notice)
  • Respond to any information given by the witness
  • Choose if their companion can speak for them at the hearing

Any companion should be allowed to:

  • Set out the employee’s case
  • Respond for the employee to any comments or points made
  • Talk with the employee during the hearing
  • Take notes
  • Sum up the employee’s case at the end of the hearing

At the end of the disciplinary hearing, the employer should tell the employee what happens next, give a timeframe, and ensure there is a formal written record of the hearing.

Step 5: Deciding On The Outcome

Once the hearing is over, the employer needs to decide on what action should be taken, if any. This should be decided based on:

  • The findings from the investigation meetings
  • What is fair and reasonable
  • What the workplace has done in any similar cases previously

Every workplace will have a different outcome for a disciplinary, and it’s a good idea to have your framework written out within your disciplinary policy or guidelines. A few of the more common outcomes for disciplinary procedures include:

  • No action is needed
  • Informal warnings
  • Written warnings (employees are typically only given 2 warnings before dismissal)
  • Demotion
  • Support framework (with goals and timelines for improvement)
  • Dismissal
Step 6: After The Disciplinary Procedure

It’s not surprising that sometimes employees don’t agree with the outcome of their disciplinary. This is why employers are required to offer the right of appeal. This is so that an employee can appeal the outcome if they feel the outcome was too severe, if they feel that any stage of the process was unfair or wrong, and if there is any additional evidence that hasn’t been considered. They are not allowed to appeal just because they don’t agree with the outcome.

The outcome of the disciplinary must remain confidential. But if it’s appropriate then the employer can speak privately with any staff who knew the disciplinary was taking place to put their minds at ease. This can help avoid any of the negative effects of disciplinaries, like gossip, bad feeling, and low morale in the workplace.

Records of the disciplinary should be kept for as long as necessary to help with similar cases and provide evidence if an appeal is made. If you are asked for a reference for the employee at any point in the future, you cannot mention the disciplinary or the outcome.

That’s a lot of information and a lot to do!

At Karen HRM we provide business owners will a full-service HR solution that covers every aspect of employment, from recruitment to disciplinaries, grievances and terminations. We can support you in providing a comprehensive disciplinary process tailored to your business, along with support and guidance if you should ever need to implement it. We’ll be with you every step of the way, so you don’t have to worry about remembering all of the above! If you’d like to know more, just get in touch with the team today.