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Taking Disciplinary Action

The need to take disciplinary action is sometimes unavoidable in a business, but you must apply the right procedures to ensure that your employees are treated fairly at all times.

When running your own business, there will likely come a time when you have to deal with an employee who is causing trouble, not pulling their weight or creating problems in other ways. However, you must ensure that you deal with them fairly and reasonably, and follow appropriate processes to try and resolve the issues at hand.

Disciplinary policies

Your business should have a disciplinary policy in place long before you have to use it, to ensure that all employees are treated the same if you need to take disciplinary action against them. A disciplinary policy should set the boundaries for what is acceptable in the workplace and explain the procedures in place for handling misbehaving or underperforming employees.

A disciplinary policy should explain what you expect from employees in a variety of situations. It might cover interactions with other employees, internet usage, health and safety requirements, and so on. It should also define what your company considers ‘gross misconduct’, which is misconduct so severe (e.g. violence or theft) that it will likely mean immediate dismissal of the employee.

The disciplinary policy should also state what will happen in the event of a breach of the rules, and what kind of disciplinary action the perpetrator might face. It should also say who employees can appeal to if they aren’t satisfied with the outcome of a disciplinary decision.

It should be easy for your staff to find a copy of your disciplinary policy. Make it easy to access and ensure they know where it can be found. For example, it might be included in a staff handbook or available on your company intranet.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has set out a code of practice for what should be included in your disciplinary procedures. It’s not against the law if you don’t follow the code, but if you don’t and an employee takes you to an employment tribunal, their compensation amount could be increased by 25%. To avoid risk to your business, it is definitely worth heeding the Acas code of practice, which can be found on their website.

Taking disciplinary action

There aren’t any strict laws in place for how you should handle disciplinary action against an employee, but again, the Acas code of practice gives some guidelines which it is recommended you abide by. The code of practice suggests taking the following course of action, which you should take after carrying out an initial investigation and gathering relevant evidence.

Firstly, you should send a letter to the employee letting them know that they are facing disciplinary action, explaining why this is, and inviting them to a hearing. Let them know that they may be accompanied to this hearing by a union representative (or other appropriate trade union official) or a co-worker if they wish.

The hearing itself will take the form of a meeting in which you discuss the issue with the employee and let them tell their side of the story or explain any mitigating factors.

Having done this, you should make a decision on what action you will take, such as a warning, demotion, or even dismissal. Send another letter to the employee letting them know what you have decided, as soon as you can. After this, they will have an opportunity to appeal against the decision. In the letter, you should give a deadline by which they should let you know if they intend to appeal.

Handling disciplinary appeals

If an employee disagrees with the conclusion reached after a disciplinary hearing, they may choose to appeal against it. Your disciplinary policy should tell them who they should contact regarding an appeal. They should have been informed of how long they have to do this in the letter informing them of your disciplinary decision.

An appeal hearing should allow the employee to make their case again and explain why they disagree with the decision. Ideally their case should be heard by someone other than the person who held the initial disciplinary hearing – if this is not possible, the case should at least be looked at impartially and reconsidered. Other than this, the appeals process is essentially identical to that of disciplinary hearings.

If the employee is still not satisfied with the outcome after the appeal, they may decide to bring their case before an employment tribunal. See our page on being taken to an employment tribunal for full details of this.