Navigating the outcomes of disciplinary hearings can be challenging and it is important for managers to decide on the best outcome.
The factors to consider for the outcome of disciplinary hearings are the findings from the investigation, what is fair and reasonable, and what your organisation has done in similar cases before.
In this blog we walk you through the various possible outcomes of disciplinary hearings.
It’s important to note that some cases are not straightforward. Therefore, we recommend you seek advice from an HR professional on how to manage a disciplinary situation.
What Are the Possible Outcomes of a Disciplinary Hearing?
Once you have concluded a disciplinary process, including investigation and hearing, you will need to determine the outcome of the process.
The most common actions taken during disciplinary hearings are:
- No Action Taken
- Verbal Warning / Informal Warning
- Written Warning
- Final Written Warning
This post provides a description for each of these outcomes.
Note: Although these are the most common, each company has their own versions of disciplinary outcomes, so we recommend that you review your company’s disciplinary policy or guidelines prior to reaching your outcome decision.
1. No Action Taken
Not all disciplinary hearings result in consequences.
If you go through the hearing process and feel that there is insufficient evidence or uncertainty about the alleged misconduct, no further action might be the right outcome.
Equally, you could go through the hearing process and feel that the matter simply is not sufficiently serious to warrant a disciplinary sanction being applied.
If you do conclude that no action is to be taken, make it clear to the individual that there is no longer anything to worry about and confirm the end of the disciplinary procedure.
2. Verbal Warning / Informal Warning
For minor instances of misconduct, a verbal warning may be appropriate. It’s an informal way to address the issue and convey the company’s expectations.
A verbal warning is often used for a first-time offence.
If your policy allows it, you can give a verbal warning without going through a full disciplinary process. As an example, if someone is persistently late then you may say “I’m giving you a verbal warning for timekeeping. If it happens again then we may need to commence a formal disciplinary process.”
As much as this may seem contradictory, you should follow up a verbal warning in writing. This allows you to keep records for the future and also ensures the employee is aware of the change that is needed.
3. Written Warning
A written warning is typically the sanction for a first instance of more serious misconduct or when there are performance concerns.
For a written warning to comply with the Acas Code of Practice, it needs to set out
- the issue
- the changes needed with a timescale, and
- the consequences if those changes are not implemented.
It should also confirm how long the warning will remain live for, which is typically between six and twelve months.
A very important element of a written warning is that it must confirm the right to appeal and the process the employee should follow if they wish to exercise that right.
4. Final Written Warning
A final written warning can be given on a first instance of serious misconduct or if the changes set out in a first written warning are not met.
A final written warning serves as a last chance for the employee to rectify their actions before potentially being dismissed.
As with the first written warning, a final written warning needs to confirm the issue, the changes needed with timescales, the outcome and the length of warning issued.
Also, it should outline the potential consequences of failing to comply, which will likely be dismissal. Again, ensure that you include the right to appeal.
Usually, final written warnings stay on an employee’s file for 12 months. However, in extreme cases it can stay on file for an indefinite period.
For cases relating to poor performance, you may look to demote an employee as an alternative to dismissal.
Demotion means that the employee will remain employed whilst working on the reasons for the disciplinary action or demotion.
It should be implemented carefully to avoid damaging employee morale and motivation. There is also a potential that a demotion would be deemed to breach an employment contract.
Warning: Due to the potential implications of this action, demotion is not a sanction to apply without speaking with a HR professional first.
The most severe outcome is dismissal.
Dismissal is an option where
- the action by the employee is regarded as very serious misconduct or gross misconduct, even if it is a first offence.
- where the employee has been issued with previous warnings but not met the standards set out.
When determining a dismissal outcome, you do need to ensure that you are behaving fairly and reasonably, and that you have applied a similar sanction to any similar cases in the past.
It’s important that dismissal decisions are made by a manager who has the authority to dismiss.
Dismissals should be followed up in writing and you should confirm the reasons for dismissal, the date of termination, the notice period, and the right of appeal.