How to Manage Disciplinaries:
A Step-By-Step Guide for Employers

Detailed guidance on the disciplinary process and every aspect of disciplinaries that you should consider when managing disciplinary matters

The need to manage disciplinary situations can arise for a variety of different reasons.  Sometimes an employee is not performing as they should. Sometimes attendance or punctuality is a problem and sometimes someone just does something they shouldn’t.

You’ll have tried an informal approach to managing some situations before starting formal disciplinary. However, in this post we look at the steps to follow when you need to take formal disciplinary action.  The assumption for the remainder of this post is that an event has happened, or a situation has arisen that you need to address through a formal disciplinary process.

The disciplinary process is a complicated process to navigate. Whilst we hope you find the information in this post useful, it’s important to note that this guide does not constitute professional advice. It will not cover everything that you could encounter whilst managing disciplinary matters.

Disciplinaries can be complicated and employees are typically very challenging throughout the process.  Therefore, we advise you seek professional support before embarking on a disciplinary process of any size.

Process for Managing Disciplinaries

The diagram below sets out the key steps in managing a disciplinary process.

Click / tap on each step for more information.

Step 1 – Familiarise Yourself With Your Disciplinary Policy

Your organisation should have a published disciplinary policy that sets out how you manage disciplinary situations. You should remind yourself of the content of that policy and what it says you should do. The policy is also likely to set out what constitutes a disciplinary offence. It may also list what is deemed to be gross misconduct.

If your company does not have a disciplinary policy, you need to follow the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.

For the rest of this post, we’ll be assuming that your disciplinary policy aligns to the requirements set out in the Acas Code of Practice. However, if your policy includes a step not mentioned below, you should follow that policy.

If your policy is less favourable than the requirements set out by Acas, then you need to update your policy and follow the Acas recommendations.

Step 2 – Assess Whether You Need to Suspend the Employee

This step won’t be relevant in many situations. However, if an employee has done something seriously wrong (typically something that would be classed as gross misconduct) there may be a need to suspend the employee.

Suspension is always a last resort. It is a step that you should only take if you feel the employee poses a threat to either the business or fellow employees. Suspension can also be necessary if you feel that the employee being at work will hinder any investigation.

Step 3 – Appoint Someone to Deal With the Disciplinary

Your disciplinary policy is likely to confirm who will deal with disciplinary matters.  It may be a line manager, a director or someone else.  When you receive the complaint, review the content and determine who will be most appropriate to deal with the matter. 

If you policy states that a line manager will deal with disciplinary matters but the complaint is about the line manager, then this clearly isn’t going to work. In this scenario you’ll need to appoint an alternative individual to manage the disciplinary. 

When considering who will hear a disciplinary, think about:

  • Is there a conflict of interest? 
    • Any individual named in the issue should not be involved in the hearing or investigation. 
    • Any individual who may be a witness in the disciplinary investigation should not be involved. 
  • Who has the skills to manage the disciplinary? 
    • Managing a disciplinary can be tricky. Therefore, the individual assigned to the case needs to have the right skills to deal with the matter properly. 
    • They need to be unbiased, thorough, and able to manage difficult conversations. 
  • Who has the seniority to manage the disciplinary matter? 
    • The individual assigned to managing the case needs to be senior enough to make decisions as to an appropriate outcome.
  • Who will deal with any appeal? 
    • You need to remember that an employee will have a right to appeal. Therefore, you need to think about who would be available to hear an appeal should one arise. 
    • In the ideal world, the individual dealing with the appeal will be more senior than the individual who heard the initial case. 
    • Note: If you use your most senior employee to hear the disciplinary then you may struggle when it comes to an appeal.

If you find that you cannot identify anyone internally manage the disciplinary matter, you can instruct someone external.  This could be a Non-Executive Director or you can engage with an HR consultancy to help manage the employee grievance.

Step 4 – Investigate the Issue(s)

This is another step that won’t be necessary in all disciplinary situations. 

Typically, an investigation is required when the disciplinary relates to an event that has happened or situation that has arisen and there is some uncertainty around the facts of the case.

The purpose of the investigation is to ascertain whether there is a disciplinary case for an individual or individuals to answer.

An investigation will involve speaking to any witnesses and the individual who may ultimately be subject to a disciplinary process.  You should take statements from these individuals and gather any information that relates to the issue at hand.

Having undertaken the investigation, you need to decide whether the situation warrants a formal disciplinary hearing. 

  • If it does, you move to the next step in the process. 
  • If it doesn’t, you should confirm to any party who thought they may be subject to a disciplinary hearing that you have concluded that there is no case to answer.  This way they know that the matter is closed.

Step 5 – Arrange the Disciplinary Hearing

Having decided that there is a case to answer, the next step is to arrange a hearing.

The approach to arranging the hearing is that you write and invite the employee to a meeting. In the same letter, you remind them of their right to be accompanied

When sending the invitation, you should provide the individual with copies of evidence that you will use during the process. The purpose of the hearing is to allow the company to present the allegations and allow the employee to respond. 

It is very important that you give the employee sufficient time to prepare for the hearing. Therefore, you should issue the invite a minimum of 48 hours before the meeting happens.

Step 6 – Conduct the Disciplinary Hearing

The next step in managing a disciplinary is to conduct the hearing. 

As explained, the hearing sees the company present the case against the employee. Additionally, it gives the employee the opportunity to respond. 

It’s important not to get drawn into an argument or debate with the employee during the hearing.  Stick with the facts and make sure you give the employee plenty of opportunity to present their side of the situation.

Step 7 – Decide the Outcome of the Process

Having heard all that the employee has had to say, you need to provide the outcome.  The options open to you are to uphold the disciplinary in full, uphold the disciplinary in part or dismiss the disciplinary.

Where you uphold the disciplinary in full or part, you also need to decide on an appropriate disciplinary sanction.  Your policy will detail the options available, but they are typically:

  • First Written Warning
  • Final Written Warning
  • Dismissal

Note: You will normally only be able to dismiss for a first offence if the offence is extremely serious.  For something like poor performance or attendance or punctuality issues, a first written warning is the usual sanction. 

In the outcome letter, as well as confirming the sanction you are issuing, you will also set out the requirements that you are placing on the individual and the consequences of failing to meet those requirements.

As an example, if someone is not performing well, it’s likely you’ll be issuing a first written warning.  The warning will contain details of the improvements that you expect to see. You’ll set out the timeframe within which you expect to see them.  You will then go on to explain that, if the individual fails to meet those requirements, then you may revert to the disciplinary process again.

In the outcome letter you will advise the individual of their right to appeal. Additionally, you’ll set out the process they need to follow if they decide to exercise that right.

Step 8 – Hear Any Appeal Against the Disciplinary Outcome

If the employee lodges an appeal against the outcome of the disciplinary then you need to deal with that appeal.

You do this by appointing someone to hear the case and this individual should be someone who was not involved in the initial disciplinary hearing.

That individual will then write and invite the employee to a hearing (again confirming their right to be accompanied) and conduct the hearing.

Following the hearing, the appointed individual will conduct any investigation they deem to be necessary before issuing the outcome.

Step 9 – Follow Up With the Employee

The final step in managing a disciplinary is to ensure that you follow up with the employee. If you have issued a warning with required improvements, you must review the progress.

A key area where a disciplinary process can unravel is where this follow-up doesn’t happen. If you set an employee some targets, measure their success and, if they fail to successfully meet the targets set or if there is a repeat of a conduct or behaviour issue, revert to Step 3 in the disciplinary process and repeat.

Disciplinary matters can be complicated.

There are so many technicalities and potential pitfalls in a disciplinary process that this isn’t an area that you should try to navigate alone.

Add into this, an employee who is being investigated may be very challenging throughout the process.

We really do advise you to seek professional support before embarking on a disciplinary process of any size.

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