Laying down a disciplinary policy, and implementing it properly, ensures that everyone is treated fairly.
Under the Employment Relations Act 1996, any employer with more than 20 staff is legally bound to spell out its disciplinary policy. This should include details of what counts as gross misconduct, which may lead to instant dismissal.

Why should companies have a disciplinary procedure?
The main aim is to solve problems. A company should ensure that it adheres strictly to its disciplinary procedures as many employers have lost dismissal cases at tribunals by failing to stick to their own rules.

What are the procedural stages?
There are three of them:

  • Verbal warning. Where an employee's performance or conduct is below par, they should be given a formal verbal warning. You should discuss the matter with the employee and suggest how they can improve. A reasonable timescale (usually about four weeks) should be given for this improvement.
  • First written warning. If there is no improvement within the timescale, talk to the employee again, give them a letter confirming the discussion and tell them that it constitutes a first written warning. Again, the emphasis should be on improvement and another timescale set.
  • Final written warning. If there is still no improvement, talk to the employee and give them a final written warning stating that unless improvement is made, the company will take steps to dismiss them. You can bypass stages one and two, if the misconduct is sufficiently gross.

    How do I prepare for a disciplinary meeting?
    Obviously, you should investigate all the allegations. If they are very serious, consider whether the employee in question should be suspended to allow sufficient time for the matter to be investigated properly. If you do decide to do this, the employee must be informed in writing of the reasons for their suspension. Always bear in mind that the allegations may be unfounded and no action necessary.

    Many employers have lost dismissal cases at tribunals by failing to stick to their own rules

    What should I tell the employee beforehand?
    An employee is legally entitled to receive written notification no fewer than five days before a disciplinary hearing. The notice should give the employee time to consider the reasons for the hearing and they should be provided with copies of any documentation. If gross misconduct is alleged, the notification should state that dismissal is possible. The employee should be offered the option to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative.

    What do I need to do during the disciplinary hearing?
    In terms of administration, arrange for minutes of the meeting to be taken and make sure the employee gets a copy of them. You should ask the employee to agree that the minutes are accurate and to sign a copy. You should adjourn the hearing if the employee raises a matter that requires further investigation. If the outcome is a warning, advise the employee of their right to appeal, to whom it should be addressed and the time frame (usually five working days). Follow up the hearing with a written letter stating the outcome of the hearing and advise the employee of their right to appeal again.

    What happens if the employee wants