What are disciplinary issues?

Disciplinary problems in the workplace involve unacceptable behaviour, improper conduct or poor performance by an individual (or group of individuals) which an employer believes may require action, of some sort, to be taken. This may range from the minor – an oral warning, to the most serious – dismissal.

It’s impossible to list every type of behaviour which may be treated as a disciplinary problem as this will depend upon the context, such as the type of employer, the employee’s job and the circumstances in which the problem has arisen.

However, illness or ill health should not generally be regarded as a disciplinary matter but, dealt with under separate capability procedures.

Some broad examples of disciplinary issues are:

  • Persistent lateness
  • Unauthorised absence
  • Serious failure of professional competence
  • Dishonesty
  • Misusing alcohol or drugs or working under the influence of either
  • Bullying
  • Discriminatory conduct such as harassment of colleagues or customers
  • Breach of health and safety rules
  • Criminal behaviour
  • Failure to follow a lawful instruction or insubordination
  • Fighting
  • Bringing the employer into disrepute in some way
  • Breach of IT/data protection/social media policies

See our article for examples of breach of data protection act by employees.

How to deal with disciplinary issues

Disciplinary issues should be dealt with in accordance with an employer’s disciplinary procedure which is usually set out in the staff handbook or, may be found in the employment contract itself.

If an employee is dismissed for disciplinary reasons and a correct procedure has not been followed, they may have an unfair dismissal claim if they have over two years’ employment.

In any disciplinary situation, there are certain principles which an employer should follow:

  • An employer should raise issues and deal with them promptly; it should act without unnecessary delay throughout the disciplinary process.
  • The employer should establish the facts of each case by conducting a fair investigation into the disciplinary problem. The employer should be open to finding evidence to exonerate the employee during this process as well as to corroborate any allegations.
  • If possible, a different person should carry out the investigation and any subsequent disciplinary meeting.
  • The employer should inform the employee of the problem in writing, including enough information to enable the employee to understand and answer the case against them.
  • A formal meeting should then be held with the employee before any decisions are made.
  • An employee must be allowed to be accompanied to any formal disciplinary meetings by a work colleague or trade union representative.
  • Once the employer has considered the evidence and heard from the employee, they should decide if a disciplinary sanction is appropriate (and if so, what that should be).
  • The employee should be told in writing of the employer’s decision.
  • Employers should act consistently i.e. if another employee has committed a similar disciplinary breach, in similar circumstances, the sanctions applied in both cases should be the same or very similar.
  • An employee must be allowed to appeal any disciplinary decision.

Tackling disciplinary problems

We can help you tackle disciplinary problems with confidence. We will make sure that the process is handled formally, openly and according to disciplinary policy so that your business is fully protected against claims.

Our expert employment law solicitors will ensure that you follow all the correct procedures and that you can prove fair treatment throughout the disciplinary process.

Contact us for an initial chat with our helpful team.

Expertise for employers

Starting employment: contracts and policies

During employment: handling staff problems

Common issues raised by staff

Ending employment



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