A practical 6-step guide to disciplinary procedures (Incl. lawyer-drafted templates)
In the work environment, there are times when businesses have to handle tough situations with employees. When it comes to these situations, following a clear disciplinary procedure is a must.
For both the employer and employee, facing a disciplinary process can be a daunting experience, especially for individuals who have not faced one before. In this guide, we'll explore what disciplinary procedures are in the UK, the importance of following a fair procedure with a robust disciplinary policy, and shedding light on crucial steps you need to be aware of based on the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.
What is a disciplinary procedure?
A disciplinary procedure is a structured way for businesses to handle employee performance or behaviour issues.
It's a set of steps that aim to address problems whilst complying with employment laws. This process helps employers deal with issues that arise fairly and helps employees know what went wrong and how to rectify mistakes.
Your disciplinary procedure must be in writing and must be easily available to employees. Check out our disciplinary policy template for an example.
The ACAS Code of Practice and its impact
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (known as Acas for short) Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures sets the minimum standard of fairness that workplaces should follow.
Your disciplinary policy should set out the steps that will be followed when an employee is underperforming or there is an alleged issue of misconduct. For this reason, a well-crafted disciplinary policy aligned with the Acas guidance, emphasising fairness and reasonableness, is essential for every business.
Is the Acas Code of Practice the law?
No, the Acas Code of Practice is not law but if an employment case goes to a tribunal, the tribunal judge will take into account if employers followed the Acas Code of Practice fairly. If the employer didn't follow the Acas Code of Practice, compensation paid to the employee could increase by 25%, so it is certainly worth taking into consideration when creating your organisation's own disciplinary procedure.
Step 1: Understanding the options
If an employee has broken the company’s rules or has been underperforming, before starting a formal disciplinary procedure, you should first ask yourself if the issue needs to be resolved formally. Instead, could the issue be resolved informally?
For example, you might consider addressing misconduct (i.e unacceptable behaviour) or performance concerns through private discussions or creating improvement and training/development plans with the employee.
Step 2: Following a fair procedure
Above all, you must ensure that a full and fair procedure for both parties is followed throughout.
If you have considered the options in Step 1 and decided that formal proceedings must be taken, you should inform the employee in writing of:
details of the alleged issues; and
possible consequences (e.g. a written warning).
This information should be given to the employee with enough time to prepare for a disciplinary meeting (also known as a disciplinary hearing). Before the hearing, you must carry out an investigation of the alleged misconduct or poor performance.
Step 3: Carrying out an investigation
Before moving forward with a disciplinary process, employers need to carry out an investigation to collect relevant facts, information and evidence related to the issue.
The investigation could involve:
interviewing relevant parties;
examining records; and
considering the available evidence.
This helps the employer to understand the situation and the potential impact on the workplace.
Step 4: The disciplinary hearing
Before the disciplinary hearing
Where investigations establish a case that must be resolved by the employer, you must invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing. This is a meeting to discuss the reason for the disciplinary and hear the employee's point of view.
When should the disciplinary hearing be held?
There is no set timeframe, however, the hearing should take place as soon as possible after the investigation stage, while also giving the employee a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the hearing.
Should I invite the employee to the disciplinary hearing in writing?
Yes, an employer will be responsible for formally inviting the employee to the disciplinary meeting by letter. The letter should:
include clear details of the allegations;
set out any evidence or findings from the investigation;
state when and where the hearing will happen, giving reasonable notice;
inform the employee of their right to be accompanied by a colleague or Trade Union representative;
be clear on what might happen as a result of the hearing and the next steps.
By sending a written invite with this detail, everyone is on the same page. You can find our dynamic disciplinary letter (invite) template here, which prompts the employer to include all of the relevant information that is required as a minimum.
During the disciplinary hearing
The disciplinary hearing is where both the employer and the employee share their views of the issue at hand.
The employer should explain the alleged misconduct or performance problem, share investigation results and evidence, and take sufficient notes of the meeting.
The employee should be given the opportunity to:
explain their perspective;
respond to any allegations and details given by witnesses;
ask questions and bring witnesses (with good notice); and/or
choose if their companion will speak on behalf of the employee.
Step 5: Deciding on the disciplinary outcome
After the disciplinary hearing has ended, you will need to decide if disciplinary action should be taken. Your decision should be based on your findings, fairness and how the company has handled similar cases in the past.
Every employer may have different outcomes - these should be set out in your disciplinary policy. You may decide that the most appropriate action is:
no further action is required (in this case, the employer should make it clear the disciplinary procedure has finished and there is no longer anything to worry about);
a verbal warning;
a written warning (first or final); or
other actions, such as demotion or dismissal for gross misconduct.
If you have decided that a written warning is the most appropriate outcome, after fairly and reasonably evaluating the information available to you, then your final written warning should contain all of the necessary information.
Our written warning template can be found here.
For more information about what should be included in a written warning letter, check out this checklist.
Employee dismissal is a serious step that employers may take under certain circumstances.
According to Acas, there are two key scenarios in which dismissal might occur:
Gross misconduct: Some actions, like fraud or physical violence, qualify as gross misconduct due to their severity and impact.
Repeated issues: Dismissal might happen if an employee's behaviour doesn't improve despite receiving a final written warning.
For a deeper dive into the different types of disciplinary actions, check out this guide.
To properly document this outcome after a fair procedure has been followed, consider using Docue's dismissal letter template.
Step 6: After the disciplinary procedure
So now the disciplinary procedure has come to an end, there are still some important points to remember:
Employers should communicate with relevant staff about the outcome of the procedure, ensuring confidentiality while considering necessary policy updates or training.
To keep a record of all disciplinary cases.
Right to appeal
Employees have the right to appeal decisions that seem too severe or procedurally unfair. For more information about this right, go to the Acas website.
Ensuring compliance with data protection laws
In line with data protection law, records of the disciplinary should be:
only kept for as long as necessary.
Along with a comprehensive disciplinary policy, the key to a robust disciplinary procedure is effective communication and transparency. Clarity, proper documentation and fairness are essential when dealing with disciplinary issues.
How can Docue help?
To facilitate this process, especially for those who may be unfamiliar with the intricacies of disciplinary procedures, utilising templates can be a valuable tool. Docue offers a range of fully customisable templates designed to streamline your disciplinary procedure, making it easier to communicate effectively and maintain compliance with English and Welsh laws.
Check out Docue's fully customisable employment and HR templates, including:
Disciplinary policy: This template outlines the steps, expectations, and guidelines for addressing employee performance or behaviour issues. It provides a comprehensive framework that can be customised to align with your organisation's specific needs and industry standards.
Disciplinary letter (invite): This template helps you formally invite the employee to a disciplinary meeting, ensuring that all necessary information is included.
Written warning letter: If you decide that the most appropriate outcome of the disciplinary process is a written warning, this template provides a structured format for communicating the warning to the employee.
Dismissal letter: In cases where dismissal is necessary, this template assists you in delivering the news in a clear, respectful and professional manner.
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