If you have found yourself having to deal with an employee breaching your company’s policies and procedures, then understanding the process that you need to follow is very important. Conducting a disciplinary investigation is a critical process for any organisation when faced with potential employee misconduct.
In this blog post, we’ll explore frequently asked questions on this topic.
Time to read our post: 5 minutes
The questions answered in this post are:
- What is a Disciplinary Investigation?
- When Should a Disciplinary Investigation Be Conducted?
- Should I Formally Invite the Employee to a Disciplinary Investigation?
- Does the Employee Have the Right to Be Accompanied During the Investigation?
- What Happens During a Disciplinary Investigation?
- How Long Should a Disciplinary Investigation Take?
- What Happens if Employees Fail to Attend an Investigation Meeting?
- Can You Investigate an Employee Who Is on Sick Leave?
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 Is a Disciplinary Investigation?
A disciplinary investigation is a formal process undertaken by an employer to gather evidence and establish facts related to alleged employee misconduct, gross misconduct or occasionally performance issues.
The investigation aims to provide a fair and objective assessment of the situation before deciding on whether it is necessary to commence a disciplinary process. It is a fact-finding exercise!
When Should a Disciplinary Investigation Be Conducted?
Not every disciplinary situation is going to require an investigation. There are times when the facts are already well understood and documented and in this scenario, a disciplinary investigation won’t be needed.
However, if you find yourself dealing with a situation where you are not clear on what has happened then you need to investigate before deciding to commence a full disciplinary process.
As soon as you become aware of potential misconduct you should aim to arrange a meeting as soon as possible. This is particularly important when there are allegations of serious issues such as theft, discriminatory behaviour or violence.
Should I Formally Invite the Employee to a Disciplinary Investigation?
Yes. We would advise you to formally invite the employee to an investigation meeting.
You can send either a letter or email, clearly stating the date, time, and location of the investigation meeting. Also, it should outline the nature of the allegations or concerns being investigated so that the employee is fully aware of the issues under consideration.
We would recommend providing reasonable notice, ideally sending the invite out at least 24 hours before the scheduled meeting.
Does the Employee Have the Right to Be Accompanied During the Investigation?
There is no legal requirement for employers to allow employees to be accompanied in a disciplinary investigation.
If, however, an employee asks to be accompanied, do take time to consider the request and allow them to be accompanied if it’s practical.
In our separate post, you can find more information on situations when employees have the right to be accompanied.
What Happens During a Disciplinary Investigation?
The key activities that you may undertake during a disciplinary investigation are as follows:
- Reviewing the complaint or allegation/s with your company’s policy and procedures and determine the scope of the investigation.
- Identify any witnesses whom you need to take statements from, if any.
- Hold an investigation meeting with the employee(s) at the centre of the allegations.
- Determine whether there is any other evidence that needs to be taken into consideration (documents, CCTV footage etc.).
- Create an investigation report in which you consider all of the evidence and make a recommendation as to whether you believe there to be a disciplinary case to answer.
For more information, refer to our detailed explanation of each step in a disciplinary process.
How Long Should a Disciplinary Investigation Take?
Depending on the complexity of the case, the duration of the investigation can vary.
Whilst the investigation should be conducted as soon as possible, it must be a thorough and fair process.
For example, a complex case can take a couple of weeks to investigate, especially if there are witnesses you would like to speak to.
If there are any delays in the process, it should be communicated out to all involved parties.
What Happens if Employees Fail to Attend an Investigation Meeting?
In some instances, employees can refuse to cooperate with the investigation process.
In this situation, we recommend you offer the employee another opportunity to attend a meeting.
If they continue failing to attend any of the meetings, however, then you will need to base your decision regarding the need for a disciplinary hearing on the other information you have gathered during the process.
By failing to attend the employee is missing their opportunity to present their side of the story. However, they will have this opportunity during a disciplinary hearing if the matter progresses to that stage.
Can You Investigate an Employee Who Is on Sick Leave?
If an employee goes off sick during the investigation process, you should complete as much of the disciplinary investigation process as possible. For example, conducting witness interviews and reviewing other evidence.
If the sickness is short term e.g. off sick with a cold, we would advise that you postpone the meeting until the employee has returned to work.
If, however, the employee is likely to be off with sickness for quite some time, we would recommend referring the employee to occupational health to determine whether the employee is fit to attend the investigation meeting.
Your occupational health provider will also able to advise if there are any reasonable adjustments that you should consider that would mean it was possible for the employee to participate in the process.
There is quite a lot to consider and take into consideration when deciding to engage with an employee off with sickness, especially if they have stress-related sickness.
If you are unsure of what the right action to take is, we would recommend you reach out to us to discuss your case in detail and our HR consultant will be able to provide you with tailored guidance.
Manager’s Step-By-Step Guide to Managing Disciplinaries
Read our comprehensive guide for employers on managing disciplinaries. The guide provides detailed information on the process for managing disciplinary matters, the steps employers need to follow and the areas they should consider before commencing disciplinaries.
Want to Know More?
Overall, conducting a disciplinary investigation is a critical process that requires careful consideration (and adherence to the ACAS guidelines).
We recommend that you seek professional advice if you are unsure about what the right steps to take to any aspect of the process. Remember, a disciplinary investigation should be impartial and consistent in line with your company’s disciplinary policy.