Disciplinary action at work—law and procedures

10 January 2020

From time to time, your business may need to take disciplinary action against a member of staff. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as an act of gross misconduct.

If that happens then you’re legally required to follow a disciplinary and dismissal procedure.

This can be a complex process, so you can refer to our employment law services for immediate assistance—or you can call us on 0818 923 923.

You can also read our guide for a greater understanding of what the process will involve for your business.

What is disciplinary action?

It’s a procedure where your business tells a member of staff their performance or behaviour doesn’t meet expectations.

Depending on how serious the breach of your policies is, it can warrant different outcomes. For example, some businesses may want to instantly dismiss an employee responsible for an act of gross misconduct.

However, it’s important to provide a fair procedure and allow for your member of staff to explain and/or challenge the allegations against him/her.

As a result, you should follow your business policies carefully and treat every employee in the same way. Regardless of the allegations they’re facing.

How to handle disciplinary issues in the workplace

As a business you must have disciplinary and grievance procedures. Under the Workplace Relations Commission’s Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures, all such procedures should be in writing and presented in language that is easily understood.

You should give copies of these procedures to all employees when they start work and include relevant details in employee induction and refresher training.

All members of management, including supervisory personnel and all employee representatives, should be fully aware of these procedures. They should adhere to their terms if they need putting into practice.

The consequences of breaching the rules and employment requirements of your enterprise/organisation should be clearly set out in employment documents.

In particular, you should highlight breaches of discipline which if proved would warrant suspension or dismissal.

Disciplinary meeting procedures must comply with the general principles of natural justice and fair procedures. These include:

  • That employee grievances are fairly examined and processed.
  • That details of any allegations or complaints involving the employee.
  • The employee concerned has the opportunity to respond fully to any such allegations or complaints.
  • The employee concerned has the opportunity to avail of the right for representation during the procedure.
  • That the employee concerned has the right to a fair and impartial determination of the issues concerned, taking into account any representations made by, or on behalf of, the employee and any other relevant or appropriate evidence, factors, circumstances.

Going through this process provides employees with an opportunity to explain their actions, as well as look for ways in which to improve their behaviour.

As a general rule, you should first look to resolve a disciplinary issue by asking the employee and their immediate line manager to agree on the next steps.

If that isn’t possible or appropriate in the circumstances, the disciplinary action process may include the following sanctions:

  • An oral warning
  • A written warning
  • A final written warning
  • Suspension without pay
  • Transfer to another task, or section of the enterprise
  • Demotion
  • Some other appropriate disciplinary action short of dismissal

A manager and the employee should sign the written warning and you should keep the note for your records.

The sanctions in the procedure should be progressive, for example, an oral warning, a written warning, a final written warning, and dismissal.

Some disciplinary issues may call for more serious action, up to and including dismissal at an earlier stage.

But how long should a disciplinary procedure take? Although you should look to clear up any disciplinary as quickly as possible, the length of an investigation may mean it can take as long as necessary.

Disciplinary in the event of gross misconduct

Even in serious cases, the disciplinary process must still comply with the general principles of natural justice and fair procedures. Firing someone on the spot without first carrying out an investigation or allowing the employee an opportunity to be heard is not permitted.

In the event of a more serious incident, you should still carry out a disciplinary investigation.

This will help your business to:

  • See if there’s a case to answer.
  • Offer fair treatment to everyone.
  • Establish evidence from all sides.
  • Help your business see what actions you should take next.

Remember, under disciplinary guidelines it’s essential to provide fair treatment to the employee throughout. You should not treat them as guilty before you know all of the facts.

The following guidelines will help you ensure you follow fair procedures when dealing with dismissals involving gross misconduct:

  • Hold a preliminary investigation with the employee in question.
  • Following the investigation, suspend the employee on full pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary process.
  • Formally invite the employee to the disciplinary hearing.
  • Make the employee aware they have the right to representation during the disciplinary process.
  • Take reasonable measures to accommodate the employee where necessary during the disciplinary process.
  • Provide the employee with a right of appeal and the details of the person to address the appeal to.

Once the meeting has taken place and the evidence presented, then afterwards you can decide if you need to take any further action.

However, if there is enough evidence to prove a serious breach that the employee is guilty of, then you can consider dismissing the member of staff.

Need more help?

Get in touch and we'll help you on this issue immediately: 0818 923 923.

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