UK disciplinary procedure guide for HR managers and employers

Last checked and updated on 16 June 2022

Employers in the UK must ensure that they have a disciplinary procedure in place, which sets out the steps that will be taken when an employee is accused of misconduct or poor performance.

This guide will provide HR managers with all the information they need to handle disciplinary matters fairly and effectively. It covers everything from defining misconduct and incapability to conducting an investigation and deciding on an outcome.

It also includes information to help underperforming employees improve their capability, as well as a section on how to deal with misconduct outside the workplace.

The final part of the guide deals with disciplinary hearings, including how to ensure a fair process and what records need to be kept. By following these steps, employers can be confident that they are dealing with disciplinary matters in the correct way.

Compliance with employment law

The disciplinary procedure should comply with employment law. This includes the right to a fair hearing and the right to appeal.

Employees should also be given clear guidance on the standards of behaviour that are expected of them.

The disciplinary procedure should be regularly reviewed to make sure it is up to date and compliant with employment law.

What is disciplinary procedure?

The first step in understanding the UK disciplinary procedure is to know what it is.

Disciplinary procedure is the process that employers follow when an employee is accused of misconduct or poor performance.

This can be anything from coming into work late or not following instructions, to more serious offences such as theft or violence.

Misconduct vs capability

It is important to distinguish between misconduct and capability.

Misconduct
(unacceptable behaviour)
Capability
(poor performance)
Misconduct is when an employee does something that goes against the rules of their contract or the law. For example, if they are caught stealing from work, this would be classed as misconduct.Capability, on the other hand, refers to an employee’s ability to do their job. If they are not meeting the required standards, this would be classed as a capability issue.

What is gross misconduct?

Gross misconduct is a more serious form of misconduct that can result in an employee being dismissed immediately. This usually includes offences such as violence, theft or fraud.

Misconduct outside the workplace

Employees can also be disciplined for misconduct that takes place outside of work. For example, if they are arrested for drink driving, this would be classed as misconduct.

Helping underperforming employees improve their capability

If an employee is not meeting the required standards, it is important to try and help them improve their performance before taking disciplinary action. This can be done by setting targets and providing training and support.

Training and support should be tailored to the individual and their specific needs. It is also important to give employees regular feedback, so that they are aware of what they need to improve.

If an employee’s performance does not improve after being given training and support, then disciplinary action may be necessary.

Handling improper behaviour and misconduct of employees

If an employee is accused of misconduct, the first step is to conduct an investigation. This should be done as soon as possible after the incident has been reported.

The next step is to decide if there is enough evidence to prove that the employee has committed misconduct. If there is, then a disciplinary hearing will be held.

At the hearing, the employee will be given a chance to explain their side of the story and decide on an appropriate punishment.

If the employee is found guilty of misconduct, they may be given a warning or be dismissed from their job.

How to conduct a disciplinary procedure

  1. Ensure a fair process

    It is important to ensure that the disciplinary process is fair. This means that all employees should be treated equally and given the same opportunities to improve their performance or explain their behaviour.

  2. Conduct an investigation

    If an employee is accused of misconduct, it is important to conduct an investigation as soon as possible. This will involve speaking to witnesses and gathering evidence.

    Once the investigation is complete, the next step is to decide if there is enough evidence to prove that the employee has committed misconduct.

    If there is, then a disciplinary hearing will be held.

  3. Disciplinary hearing

    A disciplinary hearing is a meeting between an employer and an employee, where the employee is given a chance to explain their side of the story. The employer will then decide if they are guilty of misconduct and, if so, what the appropriate punishment should be.

  4. Deciding on an outcome

    At the disciplinary hearing, the employer will decide if the employee is guilty of misconduct. If they are, then they will decide on an appropriate punishment. This could be a warning or dismissal from their job.

    Types of outcome include:

    Informal warnings
    Written warnings
    Dismissal

    An informal warning is a verbal warning that is given to an employee. A written warning is a formal letter that is sent to an employee. Dismissal is when an employee is sacked from their job.

  5. Keep records of the disciplinary procedure

    It is important to keep records of the disciplinary procedure, including details of the investigation and hearing. These records can be used as evidence if an employee decides to appeal the decision.

Getting advice if you’re unsure

If you’re unsure about any aspect of the disciplinary procedure, it’s important to get advice from an experienced adviser. They can help you understand your options and make sure that you follow the correct process.

FAQ

What is misconduct?

Misconduct is behaviour that falls below the standards expected of an employee. It can include things like absenteeism, poor performance, and inappropriate behaviour.

What is capability?

Capability refers to an employee’s ability to do their job. If an employee is not meeting the standards required, then this is known as underperformance.

What is gross misconduct?

Gross misconduct is a serious offence that can justify dismissal from a job without notice. Examples of gross misconduct include theft, violence, and fraud.

What is a disciplinary hearing?

A disciplinary hearing is a meeting between an employer and an employee, where the employee is given a chance to explain their side of the story. The employer will then decide if they are guilty of misconduct and, if so, what the appropriate punishment should be.

How do I ensure a fair disciplinary process?

It is important to ensure that the disciplinary process is fair. This means that all employees should be treated equally and given the same opportunities to improve their performance or explain their behaviour.

How do I keep records of a disciplinary procedure?

In order to keep records of the disciplinary procedure, you will need to take detailed notes throughout the process. It is also a good idea to have a file or folder where you can store all relevant documentation, such as performance reviews, warnings, and correspondence with the employee. Keeping clear and organised records will help to ensure that the process is fair and consistent.

What should I do if I’m unsure about the disciplinary procedure?

If you’re unsure about any aspect of the disciplinary procedure, it’s important to get advice from an experienced adviser. They can help you understand your options and make sure that you follow the correct process.

What are the consequences of not following the disciplinary procedure?

If an employer does not follow the correct disciplinary procedure, they could face a claim from their employee. This could be for unfair dismissal or discrimination.

Can an employee be dismissed without a disciplinary hearing?

In some cases, an employee can be dismissed without a disciplinary hearing. This is known as summary dismissal. It can be used in cases of gross misconduct, where the employee’s behaviour is so bad that they cannot be given a chance to improve or explain their actions.

What are the different types of disciplinary action?

The different types of disciplinary action are verbal warning, written warning, and dismissal.

What is a formal warning?

A formal warning is a verbal warning that is given to an employee. A written warning is a formal letter that is sent to an employee.

What is a final warning?

A final warning is a written warning that is given to an employee. It is usually only given after the employee has received a verbal warning and a written warning.

What is dismissal?

Dismissal is when an employer ends an employee’s contract of employment. This can be either with or without notice.

What is a disciplinary appeal?

A disciplinary appeal is when an employee appeals against a decision that has been made about them. For example, they may appeal against a decision to dismiss them from their job.

Who can I get advice from about the disciplinary procedure?

You can get advice from an experienced adviser, such as a solicitor or trade union representative.

What should I do if I’m not happy with the outcome of the disciplinary procedure?

If you’re not happy with the outcome of the disciplinary procedure, you can make a complaint to your employer. You can also appeal against the decision.

What are the time limits for making a complaint?

The time limit for making a complaint depends on the type of complaint you’re making. For example, the time limit for an unfair dismissal claim is three months from the date of your dismissal.

Can I get help with the cost of making a complaint?

Yes, you may be able to get help with the cost of making a complaint. For example, you may be able to get legal aid if you’re on a low income.

Important – The information provided in our articles is intended to be for general purpose use only, and not advice for you or your business. We strive to publish accurate information, but encourage you to fact-check and seek expert guidance. We recommend that you always speak to a qualified professional to get advice about how to operate your business under your specific requirements and circumstances.