Running a Successful Disciplinary Hearing

By Andrew Wilson

LinkedIn profile

Having a clear process in place for your workforce to understand and appreciate instils confidence that workplace issues will always be dealt with fairly and consistently.

However, from time to time conduct and performance issues need to be addressed. When this occurs, there are clear rules that need to be followed. Make a mistake, or rush through with a decision, then you could face a claim of automatic unfair dismissal against your company.

Here we discuss the steps to be considered for most workers when it becomes necessary to undertake formal disciplinary action. It’s not only a legal requirement to follow this recognised process, it also demonstrates fairness, consistency and equality.

How to Run a Successful Disciplinary Hearing

Step 1 – Investigation

Step 2 – Invite to the hearing

Step 3 – The meeting

Step 4 – The decision

Step 5 – The appeal

To run a fair process, you ideally need three people – one to investigate, one to carry out the meeting and one for the accused to appeal to after a decision has been made.

Step 1 – Investigation

The investigator must collate all evidence and present it to the nominated disciplinary officer. The evidence must be made available to the accused employee if disciplinary action is considered.

If they then think there’s been a breach of company policy, then a disciplinary hearing may follow.

Step 2 – Invite to the Hearing

In your invite, you must tell them what they have been accused of.

This can be by post, recorded or standard is recommended, but it could be emailed, or hand-delivered if they are still at work.

Tell them what they are accused of and what sanctions these offences can carry. You have to share any evidence including witness statements at the meeting, so make sure the people who have written the statement know you’ll be sharing it with the accused.

Include the date, time and location of the meeting. And confirm who will be attending as the disciplinary officer and note-taker, and anyone else.

Make it very clear that they have the right to be accompanied at the meeting, usually a work colleague, or perhaps a Trade Union Representative.

Step 3 – The Meeting

Set out the reasons for the meeting, the allegations and possible actions, as stated in the invitation letter. Ensure the employee has received everything and read through all supporting documentation.

Talk through the matter and listen to the responses of the employee. This meeting is their chance to offer their side of what they’ve been accused of and to offer any explanation as to why they have been wrongly accused.

If anything is raised that cannot be proven or requires further investigation then just stop the meeting and agree on another date and time to reconvene.

At the end of the meeting, tell the employee when they will have your decision in writing.

Step 4 – The Decision

Think objectively about the allegations, evidence collected, responses from the employee and options available to you.

It is important to demonstrate a fair process, but the decision taken must also be reasonable.

When you’re ready to inform the accused, the outcome needs to be put in writing. The outcome could be anything from no action, through to summary dismissal; with first and final warnings in between. State your reasons for coming to your decisions in the letter.

It’s not necessary for you to be drawn into debate about the minutes or your decision, but you should set out clearly in this letter the steps they can take to appeal against your decision, and who that appeal should be made to.

Step 5 – The Appeal

The Employee always has the right to appeal against your decision. You’ve given them the time frames, format and person to contact for the appeal in the outcome letter.

The person you’ve agreed to act as the Appeal Manager must have the power to overturn the previous decision.

The Appeal Manager would then go through the same process of setting up a meeting with the employee, and their trade union representative or work colleague should they wish, to discuss the appeal.

Any further investigations follow, and then the Appeal Manager then draws their own conclusion on the process and if the decision made was reasonable.

The outcome is put in writing from the Appeal Manager, and their decision is final.

Summary

All of this can be quite daunting and may even force you to abandon any formal action. This could be dangerous as ignoring an act of misconduct may set a precedent for the future. If it goes wrong, or you miss a stage then it really could open up a catalogue of counterclaims, appeals, grievances and stress.

Unfair or constructive dismissal, where an employee believes they have been so unfairly treated that they resign and make a claim, are likely outcomes. Further still, harassment may also be cited if the employee believes their personal rights have been violated. You really don’t need to get to a point where you avoid formal action, and managers must be allowed to manage.

If you have any questions regarding this or any other HR or Employment Law matter, then give us a call on 03456 122 144.