Most organisations or businesses should have at least basic procedures in place when it comes to dealing with discipline within the work place. It may be incorporated already into the employee’s contract or it will be a standard policy used throughout the organisation.
Whatever the procedure, the final stage incorporates a formal disciplinary hearing. This is where a senior figure in the organisation or business will hear both sides and make a decision on what penalty, if any, to place on the employee, including possible dismissal.
Even the disciplinary hearing itself has its own procedures and both employers and employees should be aware of these as if they do not follow them correctly it could impact on their position.
Before conducting a disciplinary hearing an employer must write to the employee alleging what it is that they have done wrong and inviting them to the hearing. This letter should also state where the hearing is to be held and should inform the employee of his right to be accompanied by a colleague or friend. Should the employee intend to bring someone with him, they should inform the employer who that will be.
A reasonable time should be given between this notice and the hearing itself. This is to allow both sides to prepare properly. If the employee feels that there is insufficient time to do this, they may request that the disciplinary hearing be rearranged for a later date.
It is also important that the employer has carried out an investigatory meeting with the employee first. Alternatively, they need to conduct other investigations to collate evidence which must then be provided to the employee so that they will have a chance to answer any allegations.
At the disciplinary hearing itself both the employer and employee should be allowed to set out their case and answer any questions raised by the other party. It is essential that the employee is given reasonable opportunity to ask questions, present his own evidence and call any witnesses that they may have. It should be noted that where witnesses are to be called – by either party – advanced notice of this should be given to the other side.
To enable this hearing to be conducted properly the chairman should make sure to explain the procedure of what is going to happen. They should make sure to give the employee all the opportunities and rights which are accorded to him. Failure to comply with this could mean the possibility of a claim of unfair dismissal. It is best for the chairman to keep the approach formal and polite, allowing the employee to speak freely at all times. It is also important that neither party get involved in arguments nor make personal or humiliating remarks.
The standard procedure at the disciplinary hearing itself is as follows:
- The employer will introduce everyone and explain why the hearing has been called.
- They will briefly outline the case against the employee and go through their evidence.
- They will ask if there is any special circumstance that the employee will wish for them to take into account.
- The employee will then have a turn to state his case and answer the allegations. He will also be allowed to ask questions of the employer and present his own evidence or witnesses.
- The Chairman will then summarise both sides of the discussion and will ask the employee if he has anything else to add.
- The disciplinary hearing should always be adjourned before a decision is actually taken. This is to allow time for reflection and proper consideration by the Chairman.
In some cases it may be necessary to adjourn the hearing. This would include circumstances where new facts come to light at the hearing and it is necessary to investigate them further before the disciplinary hearing can be continued. Similarly, where the employee becomes too distressed or upset to be able to continue with the hearing then it should be adjourned.
When a decision is made it should be put in writing and sent to the employee. Employees with one year’s service or more also have the right to request a written statement of reasons for dismissal.
Should the decision not be one that the employee is satisfied with, they have a legal right to appeal. When the employer informs the employee of the decision they should also inform them how they can appeal along with the time limit for doing so. As it is important for the issue to be dealt with quickly, the time limit is usually quite short.
The appeal can be raised by the employee on any number of grounds including new evidence, undue severity of the decision, inconsistency of the penalty etc. The appeal may take the form of a review of the sanction given or even a re-hearing. This will depend on the grounds of the appeal.
The Appeal of the disciplinary hearing will take place in much the same way as the disciplinary hearing itself. As at the original hearing, the employee has a right to be accompanied by a friend or colleague. Some employees may have contractual rights to bring other people, such as legal professionals.
The Chairman at the appeal is usually someone more senior in authority than the one who chaired the original hearing and if possible, be someone who was not involved in the original hearing at all.
Once a decision on the appeal has been made, it should be set out in writing and sent to the employee stating whether that decision is final or whether a further appeal can be lodged.
It should be noted that if the employee fails to attend a hearing, then the employer is entitled to make their decision without further notice to the employee. It is therefore essential that the employee turn up to the hearing or arranges it on a day when they are available. Even if the employee were to later take the employer to a Tribunal and successfully win his case, the Tribunal is likely to reduce the amount of compensation due to the employee’s failure to follow the disciplinary procedure.
Failure by an employer to follow the proper procedures will almost certainly mean that an Employment Tribunal will find any dismissal to be unfair. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, they will also increase the amount of compensation to be awarded due to the failure on the part of the employer.
It is clear that both employers and employees must be careful when dealing with disciplinary hearings and its procedures.