Your step-by-step guide to the disciplinary process

Peninsula Blog

June 01 2022

Let’s say your employee is behaving poorly. They aren’t putting any effort in. They’re rude to other members of staff. They have a bad attitude to work and it’s bringing down morale.

So, what’s the solution? You could dismiss them. But if you do that without good reason or procedure, your disgruntled employee could claim for unfair dismissal.

If you have a problematic employee on your hands, you don’t have to jump straight to dismissal. A disciplinary process can help you resolve conflicts at work in line with the ACAS Code of Practice. This can be enough to get your staff back on track.

And if it isn’t enough, it’ll protect you from legal risk.

So, when your employees aren’t meeting your expectations, here are the steps you need to take…

Step 1: Have an informal discussion

Before you start a disciplinary process, try to resolve issues with your staff informally first.

If the issue is misconduct (unacceptable or improper behaviour), find out what the issue is. Is it a couple of unexplained absences or a minor disagreement between staff? Try to resolve the situation with those involved privately.

Step 2: Investigation

If problems continue, you can start the formal disciplinary process with an investigation meeting.

Gather information and evidence by speaking to witnesses and reviewing work.

At this point, the employee doesn’t have a right to bring anyone with them – but it’s best practice to offer this. Remember to keep a record of all notes and evidence.

If you think that the employee is innocent or you don’t want to take further action, you can end the process there.

If you find evidence that proves poor or gross misconduct, set up a disciplinary meeting…

Step 3: Invite the employee to a disciplinary meeting

If you want to take things further after investigating, invite the employee to a disciplinary meeting.

Send a written invitation and provide notice of the meeting. You should also inform them of their right to bring someone. This could be a work colleague or a trade union representative.

Provide your employee copies of the evidence you have against them so they can review it in advance. Your employee has a right to respond to this evidence before you decide on disciplinary action. So, you shouldn’t send this letter out last minute or it puts them at an unfair disadvantage.

Outline why you’re inviting the employee to a disciplinary meeting and what you’ll talk about. Provide a date and time for the meeting to take place.

Step 4: The day of the disciplinary meeting

The employee has a right to bring a colleague or trade union representative with them to the meeting. If they arrive alone, remind them of this. Talk them through the allegations against them. Give them an opportunity to give their side.

It’s a good idea to have someone else in the meeting to take notes. This means you have a witness to the discussion who can record everything, letting you focus on leading the meeting.

After the meeting, you might feel like you need to investigate further. If so, tell the employee you’ll need to set up another meeting. Then, send them over any new evidence you find in advance of that follow-up meeting.

Step 5: Making a decision

Now, it’s time to consider all your evidence.

If your employee has violated company policy, what you decide is at your discretion. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Are they already on a warning?
  • Do they have mitigating circumstances?
  • How long have they worked at your company?
  • Have situations like this have happened before with other employees? How were they handled?

Remember, consistency is key to a fair process.

Your disciplinary policy should outline the level of warnings in your disciplinary process. You should have given warnings and exhausted all options before reaching the dismissal stage. The only exception to this is a case of gross misconduct.

What are all the possible disciplinary outcomes?

When deciding on a disciplinary outcome, you have a few options.

  1. No action

If you don’t want to take further action against an employee, tell them immediately. Talk to them one-to-one and any other employees who knew about the disciplinary process. Encourage them to return to work as normal.

  1. Verbal warning

If the misconduct or performance problem was minor, you can give your employee a verbal warning. Let them know the issue and the changes you expect to see from them moving forward. (Keep a note of this in case you need it for future reference).

  1. First written warning

If you’d rather go one step further than a verbal warning, you can give your employee a formal warning in writing. If you give your employee a first written warning, you should outline the following:

  • The reasons why you’re giving them a first written warning.
  • The changes they need to make and how long they have to improve.
  • The consequences if changes are not made.
  • The action you’ll take for further misconduct or poor performance.
  • How long the first written warning stands.
  • Support and training to help the employee improve.

Did the employee do something serious or cause big problems? Skip a first written warning and move straight to a final written warning.

  1. Final written warning

Hand out a final written warning if your employee re-offends within a set time of receiving a first written warning. Or, if you feel that their performance is still not up to scratch after giving them the time and support to improve.

If your employee fails to follow the rules set out in the final written warning, the next step is dismissal.

  1. Dismissal with or without pay

If you’re dismissing your employee for any reason, you need to send a formal letter to them. This letter should include:

  • The reasons behind the dismissal
  • The end date of employment
  • The notice period
  • Your employee’s right to appeal your decision

You can dismiss your employee with immediate effect and no notice pay for gross misconduct.

To avoid the risk of an unfair dismissal claim, always follow a full and fair disciplinary process before you end someone’s employment.

  1. Demotion

Maybe you want to avoid dismissal at all costs. In which case, you could choose to demote your employee instead. This would involve changing the employee’s status, salary and responsibilities. But you would need to outline this in your employee’s contract.

If you try to demote staff when this isn’t written into your employment contracts, you could be breaching it. So, you’d need to get a new one written up. Your employee might be happy to agree to the lower position if the other option is leaving the company.

Step 7: Get it in writing

When you’ve decided on an outcome, you need to send it to your employee in writing. Explain the misconduct allegations against them and the disciplinary action you have chosen. Or, if you’re dismissing them, explain why.

You should also inform the employee of their right to appeal the disciplinary action and how much time they have to do that.

Staff crisis? Get face to face support

If your staff members are creating issues, you might need to make some tough decisions. You need to act quickly and make sure you’ve covered all bases. If you don’t, you could end up paying a heavy price if your employee makes a claim against you.

You might not feel comfortable handling a HR issue personally. But you don’t have to do this alone – or at all. With Peninsula Face2Face, a HR expert will come to your workplace and deal with the whole process for you.

As your impartial mediator, they’ll make sure you follow all the right steps to achieve the best outcome. Whether it’s a disciplinary, investigation or dismissal, your HR consultant will rid you of the emotional and legal burden.

Or, if you want to take the reins, they can coach you or any other members of staff through the process.

Call now on 0800 028 2420 to have a HR specialist protect you from legal risk – and quickly.

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