What amounts to a workplace disciplinary issue?

It’s not always easy to define: workplace disciplinary issues will normally concern the conduct, absence or work of you or your colleagues. Your contract of employment or employee handbook should set out what sort of performance or behaviour is unacceptable and what action your employer might take.

Male employee angry about disciplinary issue at work

Common workplace disciplinary issues

Lateness and unauthorised absence

Taking leave without permission or being repeatedly late for work (or leaving early) could result in disciplinary proceedings. If there is a reason for this behaviour, it’s important that you discuss it with your employer to establish whether it’s reasonable and whether they can help. For example, you might change your working hours, try out flexible working or other adjustments.

Bullying

Bullying should never be tolerated in the workplace. If you believe you’ve been the victim of bullying, you should speak to someone about it and, if necessary, make a formal complaint. If you have been accused of bullying, it’s important you are treated fairly and have an opportunity to put forward your version of events as this is a serious allegation.

Misuse of social media, emails or the internet

Your employer should provide guidance about how employees should use social media and the internet appropriately, but it is very easy to cross the line and misuse it.

Discrimination

Discrimination at work can take a variety of forms. No-one should be discriminated against because of their age, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs. If you believe you have been discriminated against, you may be able to make a formal or informal complaint. If you have been accused of discrimination, it remains important that you are treated fairly and allowed to put forward your side of events as, again, this is a serious allegation.

Close up of hands on table durign meeting about discrimination

Criminal conduct

It should go without saying that criminal behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary proceedings. This could include theft, fraud, violence, threats and other criminal behaviour.

General misconduct

It’s impossible to list everything that might amount to a disciplinary issue at work. However other common examples include misusing alcohol or drugs, health and safety issues or otherwise unacceptable behaviour.

Performance

Poor employee performance can sometimes be classed as a disciplinary issue. This isn’t common though and a disciplinary process usually won’t be appropriate. There may be several factors which affect your ability to do your job properly, such as inadequate training or the wrong equipment. If your performance is being managed these needs should be addressed and you should be given an opportunity to improve.

What happens when you are being disciplined?

If your employer has brought disciplinary proceedings against an employee, they should follow a three-stage procedure:

  1. Your employer investigates the issue. This may involve interviewing you.
  2. Within a reasonable time period, your employer arranges a disciplinary meeting to discuss the issue and consider the surrounding evidence. You should be given enough time to gather your own evidence.
  3. Within a reasonable time period after the meeting, your employer lets you know of any decision they have made and any action they propose to take.
  4. Your employer gives you the opportunity to appeal their decision.

Check your contract of employment or employee handbook for more precise details of your employer’s disciplinary procedure.

ACAS disciplinary guidelines will form the cornerstone of any sound policy as they give the bare minimum steps that need to be taken.

You need to bear in mind, however, that where you have no unfair dismissal rights because you have worked less than two years, and it is not in your contract, your employer might choose not to follow a proper process. In this case, you will need to seek legal advice.

Three female employees at disciplinary meeting

What happens at the disciplinary meeting?

Again, you need to bear in mind that the full process may not be followed where you have less than two years’ employment.

At a disciplinary meeting, your employer should explain the complaint against you and go through all the evidence. You should be allowed to give your version of events and, in some cases, the meeting will be postponed in order to make further inquiries.

An employee also has the right to have someone with them at the meeting, although you must let your employer know that you are bringing someone in advance. You could choose to take a colleague or your trade union representative. That person can then speak on your behalf, although they can’t answer questions for you.

Your employer’s decision

Within a reasonable time after the meeting, your employer should inform you of their decision in writing. Of course, what that decision is will be will depend on the circumstances of the case; it could range from a written warning to you being dismissed. They should also inform you of your right to appeal.

That said, the outcome won’t necessarily be negative. Your employer may decide to take no action, or offer you support: e.g. changing your working hours or conditions, or offering you mediation or counselling.

Employer giving employee letter

Disciplinary issues and appeals

As an employee, if you are not happy with the outcome of the disciplinary meeting, you can appeal. Notify your employer as soon as possible of your intentions by writing to them, setting out what you think was wrong or unfair about their decision.

The appeal should be dealt with by someone new and more senior than the person who dealt with the original meeting. Once again you have the right to be accompanied, but you should tell your employer who you want to be with you. As with the original meeting, your employer should tell you their decision within a reasonable time frame.

Disciplinary issues: next steps

If you are still not happy, you could consider issuing proceedings in the Employment Tribunal, provided you have enough service. However, we would recommend you take legal advice before doing so, to clarify your chances of success and the possible outcome of any claim against your employer.

However, you don’t have to wait to seek legal advice. At Springhouse Solicitors, our team of knowledgeable lawyers have many years’ experience in dealing with, and providing advice on, disciplinary issues at work.

If you feel you need to be better informed about any of the above, at any stage in the disciplinary process, please get in touch today.

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