Despite the best intentions of the parties involved, the risk of conflict in the workplace can never be fully eliminated. Disciplinary meetings are often the natural next step where there has been an allegation of misconduct or in several other circumstances, including an employee's lack of competence or breach of the terms of their employment contract.
Disciplinary meetings (or disciplinary hearings) can be stressful for both the employer and the employee, but are often particularly intimidating to the employee. The meetings are held to address and resolve competence and conduct issues and offer the employee the chance to present their own version of events. The outcome of a disciplinary hearing can be varied and can include a formal warning and dismissal.
Whatever the cause that has prompted the arrangement of a disciplinary meeting, certain procedures must be followed to ensure that the meeting is fair and transparent and respects the employee's rights.
What is a Disciplinary Meeting?
Some workplace disputes cannot be resolved informally. A disciplinary meeting is held between the employee and the employer and allows both sides to discuss an issue of conduct or competency that has arisen throughout the course of the employee's employment.
Disciplinary meetings can be held to address several different issues, which can include:
- Misconduct issues (i.e. discrimination, bullying or harassment)
- Competence issues (i.e. persistent tardiness or inadequate performance)
- Breach of the company's various policies
Several principles must underlie the procedure of the meeting. Firstly, the process should be sufficiently fair. To ensure that this is the case, the employer should hold the meeting without undue delay and provide the employee with written notification and sufficient detail of the issue to be addressed to enable the employee to prepare their side of the story and to gather evidence.
The procedure should also be as transparent as possible. In addition to being provided with details of the alleged misconduct, the employee should also be allowed to examine the employer's evidence.
If necessary, reasonable adjustments to the disciplinary process should be made for employees who request them.
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Each employer's disciplinary meeting procedure may look slightly different, but certain steps will be followed by all employers. Employers typically have their own policies or follow the ACAS Code of Practice, which is a statutory code of best practice. Employers' own policies should mirror the ACAS Code as closely as possible.
The disciplinary hearing procedure is usually set out as follows:
- First, an initial investigation should be conducted. This will allow the employer to collect any evidence relating to the matter. It is important that this evidence be factual and impartial. An initial investigatory meeting with the employee and any relevant witnesses may be held at this stage.
- If there is a case to be answered, the employer should then give the employee written notification of the disciplinary meeting. This should include the date and time, the allegations to be addressed and the location of the meeting. The meeting should be arranged without undue delay.
- At the meeting, both parties will present their sides of the story. Both parties should be prepared to present their evidence. This can take the form of witness statements given by other employees. The employee has the right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative. If the employee does not wish to be accompanied by a trade union rep or a colleague, the employer should consider allowing the employee to be accompanied by a friend or family member. The meeting should be documented and both sides should raise any and all concerns they have.
- After the meeting, the employer should make a decision regarding the necessary next steps. The decision should be communicated to the employee as soon as possible and without undue delay.
Any decision the employer makes should be impartial, supported by adequate evidence and compliant with the law, the employer's disciplinary policy or the ACAS Code of Practice.
The employer's decision can include written or verbal warnings (including final warnings if the issue at hand has already tarred the employee's disciplinary record), dismissal and other forms of disciplinary action.
If the employee is unhappy with the outcome, they have the right to appeal the employer's decision. The procedure of the appeal hearing will be largely identical to that of the disciplinary meeting, but it should be headed by a manager who was not involved in the initial disciplinary hearing.
If the employee is unhappy with the outcome of the appeal hearing, they may be able to bring a claim to an employment tribunal. The tribunal will take into account the fairness of the employer's disciplinary procedure in determining whether the employee has been unfairly dismissed. The soundness of the employer's policy will also inform any decision relating to compensation.
The Bottom Line
Disciplinary meetings can be stressful and intimidating, but they are a necessary aspect of conflict resolution in the workplace. Both sides should stay calm and composed during the meeting and should work together to ensure a fair resolution. It is also particularly important that the employer has a fair disciplinary procedure in place.