Disciplinary procedures FAQs

What is a disciplinary procedure?

If an informal discussion fails to solve problems that arise in employment, the more formal approach of a disciplinary procedure may be called for. Details of the procedure should be in writing, readily accessible, known and understood by all employees. The disciplinary procedure sets out in writing the type of disciplinary action and penalties which can result from unacceptable conduct or performance.

What are the legal requirements?

Employers are not required by law to have a disciplinary procedure but employers must, in the written statement, state whether or not such a procedure is available. It is regarded as good practice to specify the person (by name or job title) to whom employees may apply if they have a grievance or wish to appeal against any disciplinary action. Details should also be given of how an employee should make such an application. Employees should be given the choice to be represented by a work colleague or union official if they are subject to formal disciplinary action. A Code of Practice has been developed in relation to disciplinary and grievance procedures and is an important read for all employers and employees.

What are the advantages of having a procedure for dealing with disciplinary matters?

It can help employers to deal fairly and consistently with disciplinary problems, including those that may involve dismissal. The tribunal will take account of whether a fair procedure was used when it decides a case.

What should disciplinary procedures contain?

Adequate disciplinary procedures should:

  • state the type of disciplinary action and penalties which can result from unacceptable conduct and failure to change it;
  • provide for matters to be dealt with quickly;
  • ensure that individuals are made fully aware of what their disciplinary offence is;
  • ensure that disciplinary action is not taken until the case has been fully investigated;
  • if it is thought necessary to suspend an employee during the investigating period, it should be with pay and for as short a period as possible;
  • allow individuals to be accompanied at the hearing by a trade union representative or a work colleague of their choice (from November 2007 this is a statutory right). 
  • allow individuals the right to put their case before decisions are reached;
  • not permit dismissal for a first offence (except in the case of gross misconduct);
  • provide the individual with a right of appeal;
  • allow the procedure to be implemented at any stage if the employee's performance or alleged misconduct warrants such action.

Indicate the kinds of serious offence which are likely to be regarded as gross misconduct and which will normally lead to summary dismissal without notice. For more on misconduct and gross misconduct, please refer to the relevant section.

A typical procedure will have the following stages:

  • a formal oral warning in the case of a minor offence;
  • a written warning for subsequent minor offences or a more serious offence;
  • a final written warning for further misconduct. The warning should make clear that dismissal may follow failure to improve;
  • dismissal with appropriate notice will follow if there is insufficient improvement.

Employees should be made aware that the employer will record all written warnings. Except in agreed special circumstances, any disciplinary action taken should be disregarded for disciplinary purposes after a specified period of satisfactory conduct. This period should be established clearly when the disciplinary procedure is drawn up. Normal practice is for different periods for different types of warnings. As a guide, warnings for minor offences may be valid for up to 6 months, whilst final warnings may remain in force for 12 months or more. Warnings should cease to be 'live' following the specified period of satisfactory conduct and should be disregarded for future disciplinary purposes.

Where can you get more information?

JACS is available to advise on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures. Please click here for a model disciplinary procedure

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