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Discipline

What is a disciplinary procedure?

A disciplinary procedure is the way your employer deals with discipline when they believe that your conduct or performance is not up to the expected standard. Disciplinary procedures may involve something as simple as an informal chat, and escalate to involve letters, meetings and appeals.

What is a disciplinary action?

Disciplinary action is the result of the disciplinary process. This will vary from case to case, but at its most severe it can lead to dismissal.

Find out more about dismissal.

Reasons for disciplinary action

If your employer believes your conduct or performance is not up to the expected standard, this may result in your employer taking disciplinary measures against you.

There are many reasons why this could be, but common causes include:

  • repeated lateness to work;
  • inappropriate behaviour;
  • repeated unsatisfactory performance;
  • other criteria set out in your contract.

Stages of disciplinary action

Your employer should follow a set procedure to resolve the issue with you. A disciplinary procedure may follow this order:

  1. An informal chat in private to identify whether disciplinary action is required.
  2. An investigation, where you and others may be interviewed.
  3. A letter from your employer setting out clearly the reason for the disciplinary action.
  4. A formal meeting to allow you to state your case.
  5. A formal letter explaining the result of the case.
  6. An invitation to appeal within a set time frame.

Most employers to set out their own disciplinary procedures in writing. This may or may not form part of your contract of employment. A failure of the employer to follow procedures can result in a breach of contract on their part if the part of the procedure that the employer has breached forms part of your contract of employment. Even if it does not, a breach by the employer of its disciplinary procedure without good reason may amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

You are entitled to be accompanied by a colleague or a UNISON rep at a disciplinary meeting.

In Northern Ireland only there remains a statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedure that employers must follow as a minimum if they are considering dismissing an employee or imposing certain kinds of penalty other than dismissal, such as suspension without pay or demotion. A failure to follow the statutory procedure will result in an automatically unfair dismissal. In summary the statutory procedure in Northern Ireland involves the following three steps:

  • a statement in writing of what the employee is alleged to have done wrong and what action the employer is contemplating;
  • a meeting to discuss the situation and a decision;
  • offering the right of appeal.

The statutory procedure is the minimum standard. Industrial tribunals also expect employers to make decisions on discipline and dismissal which are fair and reasonable. A failure on the employee’s part to comply with the statutory disciplinary and dismissal procedure – for example unreasonably failing to attend a meeting – could result in a reduction in compensation awarded by the tribunal if they win their case (up to 50%).

There may be some very limited cases where, despite the fact that an employer has dismissed an employee immediately without a meeting, an industrial tribunal will find the dismissal to be fair. These situations should still be subject to the Modified Statutory Disciplinary and Dismissal Procedure that will arise where there is a dismissal without notice or payment in lieu of notice for gross misconduct at the time when the employer became aware of the misconduct or immediately thereafter and the employer believed that it was reasonable, in the circumstances, to dismiss before enquiring into the circumstances in which the misconduct took place.

In these very exceptional situations the modified procedure requires a written statement of the alleged misconduct which led to the dismissal; and written particulars of the employer’s basis for thinking at the time of the dismissal that the employee was guilty of the alleged misconduct; and a written confirmation of his/her right of appeal against the dismissal. Step two of this modified procedure is the appeal hearing.

If you have questions about a disciplinary procedure, contact your UNISON rep.

Appeal procedures

An appeal is your chance to reverse a disciplinary decision. This should be lodged within the period of time set by your employer for appealing the decision and be heard by a superior of the person who heard your original case.

You are entitled to be accompanied by a colleague or a UNISON rep in the appeal meeting.

Suspension from work

During the disciplinary procedure, employers may be able to suspend you, pending the result of the disciplinary meeting. This should be on full pay.

You retain your rights while on suspension and if you are not paid the correct amount, you may be able to claim against your employer for unlawful deduction of wages.

The specifics of each case depend on the details of employment contracts, but it is possible for an employer to suspend you without pay if they are entitled to do so under the terms of your contract of employment and the employer is acting in accordance with the terms of your contract of employment. This is very unusual.

Read more about suspension.

Results of disciplinary action

The result of disciplinary action is not always dismissal. Formal warnings and dismissal are the last resort of disciplinary procedures. If you are unhappy with the result of a disciplinary decision, contact your local UNISON rep who can recommend your next steps.

Key facts
  • Discipline at work and disciplinary procedures are designed to help employers get the best out of members and are never to be used to intimidate or coerce employees.
  • You are allowed to bring a colleague or UNISON rep into a disciplinary meeting or appeal.
  • An employer should follow its own disciplinary procedures. These should be in writing and a copy provided to you.
  • If you are unhappy with the result of a disciplinary meeting you should appeal the decision.

FAQs

Discipline

  • Why have I been suspended?

    Suspension pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing is not a punishment. It is supposed to give your employer time to gather information and assess the case.

  • Do I have a case for unfair dismissal?

    Your UNISON rep can advise you on the possibility of bringing a case against your employer.

  • What if I feel intimidated during the case?

    It’s a good idea to take your UNISON rep along to your disciplinary meeting. They can help you explain your case and defend yourself.

  • Who can help me during disciplinary procedures?

    Your UNISON rep, ACAS and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau are good sources of assistance in disciplinary cases.

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