The disciplinary process is often deeply misunderstood; that is until someone is unfortunate to become part of it. When people hear the word ‘disciplinary’ they often think that dismissal is the inevitable climax of such proceedings, but that is only a very small part of the overall procedure. A disciplinary meeting is the climax of a process that should, in most cases, include an investigation and a detailed plan for improvement. Only when all avenues have been explored should a disciplinary hearing become necessary – except in cases of gross misconduct. If you are currently facing a disciplinary, it is essential that you are aware of the legal provisions that protect your interests.
Notification of a disciplinary hearing
If opportunities to improve performance have not been taken, an employer may feel that there is no other course of action than to take an employee to a formal hearing. Notification of this hearing should be given in writing – with at least 48 hours’ notice. This written notification should state the reason for the hearing, the date, the time and who will be holding the meeting. The letter should state that dismissal is a possibility if that is the case, and your right to invite your own witness – usually a trade union representative or a colleague – should also be clearly stated.
What to expect during the hearing
In many cases, there will be an independent witness present to take notes, but you have a right to see those notes before the meeting adjourns. Best practice dictates that everyone in the room should sign each page of the notes by way of an agreement that they are an accurate transcript of the hearing. For reasons of fairness and impartiality, the person holding the hearing – and ultimately responsible for passing judgement – should not be the person who carried out any prior investigations. Any notes made by other interested parties will be discussed during the hearing, and the employee will have the right to state their case. Your own witness may be able to ask for clarification on certain points, but asking questions on behalf of an employee is not permitted. Once all aspects of the employee’s performance or attitude have been discussed, there is usually a 15-minute adjournment. This is to allow due consideration of all the facts and any mitigating circumstances.
The decision and the appeal process
Any decision must be made in accordance with the company or organisation’s own employment guidelines. There are usually four levels of warning, but this can differ: verbal warning, first written warning, final written warning and dismissal. However, a warning can only be deemed active for as long as the organisation’s guidelines allow. For instance, most verbal warnings will stay on an employee’s record for six months, and they must be removed from record if no further instances of the same issue arise in that period. In cases where a final written has been issued, it is standard practice for such a warning to stay on a person’s file for a year. Notification of action must be given in writing, and the respondent usually has seven days from the receipt of the letter to lodge an appeal with the next tier of management.
The disciplinary process is a legal framework that is there to protect the interests of both the employer and the employee, and used correctly it can have a positive long-term impact on performance.