A disciplinary procedure is usually the best way for employers to tell staff when their performance or conduct is not up to the company’s expected standards and what needs to be done to improve. It allows them to clearly explain their point of view and should also give staff the chance to present their side of the matter.
A company’s disciplinary procedure needs to be put in writing, made easily accessible to all staff and should outline, in clear language, the rules, what performance and behaviour might lead to disciplinary action and what actions the employer might take. Before escalating matters to a formal disciplinary action or dismissal, employers are encouraged to try to settle the matter informally. However, this is not a legal requirement, so an employer is well within their rights to go straight to their formal disciplinary or dismissal procedures.
Statutory Minimum Disciplinary Procedures
Current labour laws state that there are certain minimum steps that must be included in a disciplinary procedure. These steps include a letter setting out the reasons or reasons why they are considering disciplinary action; a meeting to discuss the issue; a disciplinary decision and; a chance to appeal this decision.
If these steps are not adhered to and your employer dismisses you, you are entitled to claim for unfair dismissal and automatically win. However, you usually need a year’s service at the very least before you can make a claim for unfair dismissal.
Disciplinary Procedures in Your Employment Contract
While your employer is allowed to set out their own disciplinary procedures in your employment contract, these must conform to the statutory minimum disciplinary procedures. Also, if your employer has laid down a disciplinary procedure that forms a part of your contract and then fails to follow it, you can sue for breach of employment contract.
Your employer is allowed to suspend you as part of an on-going investigation into an issue, but you must be informed why you are being suspended and for how long, even if it is indefinite. While suspended, you do retain all employment rights and are entitled to full pay by law. If your employer fails to remunerate you correctly, you can claim an ‘unlawful deduction from wages’.
It is common that your employer may ask that you do not talk to other employees, customers and suppliers during your suspension. If you feel that this prevents you from defending yourself, you can appeal the request.
If you are being investigated in relation to a complaint, you may be asked to give a statement, which you are within your rights to refuse. However, all investigations must be unbiased, fair and reasonable, seeking to establish the facts and not just collect evidence against you. You can request and must receive copies of any information that comes out of the investigation.
Should you choose to resign from your job during an investigation, your employer is still allowed to carry on with the disciplinary investigation if they so choose.
Once you have been informed that your employer is considering disciplinary action against you, you must be invited in for a ‘hearing’ meeting as the second step in the statutory procedure. No disciplinary action can be taken against you before this meeting happens.
The hearing must be arranged at a reasonable time for you and anyone else involved, in a private space to ensure no interruptions, and you must also be given sufficient time to prepare. You are allowed to ask for more time if you don’t feel ready for the meeting.
You should be given copies of all written evidence before the meeting begins, and you are also entitled to question any witnesses during the meeting. However, this may not always be feasible as some people might have chosen to testify anonymously.
If your employer has witnesses, you are also allowed to present witnesses or witness statements of your own. Make sure you are carefully prepared and can answer any points raised in the statements or further clarifications from your employer. You are allowed to take notes but should seek permission before audio or video recording anything.
Once the hearing has taken place, your employer should inform you of their decision. They may choose to tell you verbally, but they must also confirm this in writing. Depending on the outcome, you may choose to accept the decision, or you may choose to appeal. Your grounds for appeal should be reasonable. Minor breaches of procedures, or your personal feelings, usually won’t change the decision that has been reached.
If you face disciplinary action, and aren’t sure what to do, you should get advice about your rights. However, we hope that this article has given you some insight into some of the general rules surrounding disciplinary hearings. Tell us what you think in the comments below and we might make a follow-up focusing on certain aspects of the procedure with more in-depth analysis.