Employers use disciplinary procedures to resolve issues related to the performance or conduct of their employees which isn't up to the expected standard and to encourage improvement. They should cover notification of the employee that there is a problem and also what steps the employer will take after notification to make sure the problem is dealt with.
What is a disciplinary procedure?
A disciplinary procedure is sometimes the best way for your employer to tell you when something is wrong. It allows them to explain clearly what improvement is needed and should give you an opportunity set out your side of the situation.
Your employer must put their disciplinary procedure in writing, and make it easily available to you (e.g. by giving details in the staff handbook). It should include the rules, what performance and behaviour might lead to disciplinary action, and what action your employer might take.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) produce a code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. You can't take your employer to an employment tribunal just because they haven't followed the code, but an employment tribunal can impose an uplift of up to 25% of any award where there has been an unreasonable failure to comply with any provision of it.
If your employer has laid down a disciplinary procedure that forms a part of your contract then you could sue for breach of contract if they haven't followed it.
Before taking formal disciplinary action, your employer may try and raise the matter informally with you first of all. This is often a good way of resolving a problem quickly.
Preparing for a disciplinary hearing
If you have been asked to attend a disciplinary meeting, you should take it seriously, as its outcome could have serious consequences on your employment, particularly if allegations of misconduct have been made against you.
Before the meeting
- Print out and read your employer's disciplinary procedure policy (if any) and Acas's code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.
- If you can, do some background research on the general law regarding the reason for the meeting and take copies of anything that may be relevant. Alternatively, speak to a trade union official or an employment law solicitor.
- Find out details of the claims being made against you from your employer, if this has not already been provided.
- Ask your employer to provide copies of all the evidence they will use at the meeting, such as witness statements, performance reviews, etc.
- Search for evidence you might already have that you know can be used in your defence. This should preferably be any written documentation. Ask your employer for it if you don't have it and they do.
- If there are any witnesses that can help you, such as a colleague or a third party, like a doctor, then ask if they will provide a statement or report for you.
- Based on the information you have, prepare a truthful written statement to use at the meeting. It is likely to be a stressful experience and you may forget to mention all the points that you want to raise in your defence.
- Inform your employer of the name of the work colleague or trade union representative you would like to come with you.
- Let your employer know as soon as possible if you know you cannot attend the meeting.
At the meeting
- Make sure you attend the meeting as it could go ahead in your absence.
- Don't be dishonest or make up/ guess facts or answers if you're unsure that your response is accurate – always be truthful.
- Don't become angry or aggressive – it won't help you.
- Provide a copy of your written statement and all other evidence that you have in your defence, to each individual attending the disciplinary hearing.
- If during the meeting you realise that there could be some additional evidence that could help you but has not been presented by you or your employer, then let them know. If your employer needs to conduct further investigations then say that you believe they need to do this.
- Take detailed notes during the meeting. You can also ask the person you've asked to attend the meeting to do this as well.
- Consider recording the meeting (with or without your employer's consent), if you think it is necessary. But be careful not to breach any employer policies that forbid this.
- At the end of the meeting, ask when you can expect to receive a decision from your employer.
Appealing the decision
You have a legal right to appeal the employer's decision. Your employer should inform you of this right and provide details of how you should appeal.
Ideally the appeal should be heard by someone other than the person who made the decision, but this may not always be possible, especially in small organisations.
Your appeal should be dated and in writing and should:
- list all the grounds (reasons) for making the appeal;
- contain all supporting evidence that you have;
- set out any failure by your employer to follow their own policies, including breaches of their disciplinary policy (if any) and Acas's code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures; and
- set out anything done by your employer during the disciplinary procedure, that seems unreasonable to you and suggest ways to solve the problem.
If you face disciplinary action, and aren't sure what to do, you can get advice about your rights. Acas and your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) provide free and unbiased advice. You may be able to get help from a union if you're a member.