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Disciplinary: steps to follow & things to consider

So you have a problem with an employee and you’re thinking about what to do. One option might be to take disciplinary action. There’s some guidance about thinking things through here. Now let’s go through the steps you need to use.

The first step is always to investigate. Speak to the employee and get their version of events. Does that change your understanding of events? Did the incident happen in the way you first thought? Is the issue entirely the employee’s fault or did they not realise that what they’re doing is a problem? Do you need to resolve it with more advice and training, or have you already tried this?

If other people are involved, get them to write short statements. Review all of this and then decide if you want to go ahead with a disciplinary.

If you do, who’s going to hear the disciplinary and make decisions? If you’re too involved, you might want to get another manager to do this. The employee also has a right to appeal against the disciplinary decision, so another manager needs to be kept out of this so that she or he can deal with any appeal – so don’t drag everyone into it and have no neutral people left for any future hearings, otherwise you’ll have to look at bringing managers in from other areas or other companies.

Unless it’s a serious issue that could count as gross misconduct – such as hitting someone or stealing money – then the disciplinary will result in a written warning. Legally, you have to use a “3 strikes and you’re out” disciplinary process: first written warning, final written warning and then termination of employment, although you can choose to avoid terminating employment and substituting some other form of penalty, if you want to. If you have a formal process with verbal warnings as an extra step, you might want to ask yourself why.

For any hearing to be lawful, the process is letter, meeting and appeal:

  • A letter giving them notice of the disciplinary meeting (with any statements or evidence you’re going to refer too and the right to be accompanied by a colleague or union rep)
  • The meeting itself, with both sides setting out their case before any decision is reached.
  • Appeal: if there’s a warning or termination of employment, the employee can appeal against your decision. 

When you’ve finished, you send the employee a letter confirming the meeting took place and whatever the outcome was. Whatever you do, make sure it fits with your disciplinary policy – worst case scenario: Employment Tribunals hate managers who don’t follow their own rules and comply with disciplinary policies.

This probably sounds formal and time-consuming, but it isn’t. The whole process should take half a day at most. If you put off acting, ask yourself how much time you’re spending on alternatives such as grumbling about the person involved and the problem, clearing up after them and probably complaining about the situation to your loved ones.

You’re probably not helping the employee either – they may not know there’s a problem or they may not realise that future employers will be a lot harsher about whatever it is. Sometimes it’s better for everyone to just grit your teeth and get on with a disciplinary.

Finally, because it’s an increasing trend, if it’s about something the employee’s put on social media then you might have a problem taking disciplinary action unless you’ve clearly communicated that posting anything inappropriate on social media might get them in trouble, if it’s connected to their work (including if their accounts show where they work). There’s some recent employment law decisions about this. So tell your employees and think about rolling out a social media policy.

By Brian