When an employee has acted inappropriately at work or they have gone against company policy in some way and you decide to take disciplinary action, you will need to follow a strict process.
It can vary depending on the severity of the misconduct, i.e. you can skip stages or add additional stages, just ensure that you have carefully explained your disciplinary process in your company handbook.
If you require support with writing up your company handbook, or with any part of a disciplinary process, then we can offer professional advice both remotely and face to face, call us today on 0845 2626 260 to find out more.
The standard practice is a four-step process starting with a verbal warning and ending with potential dismissal.
In absence and performance cases, it is standard practice that employers would go through all stages of warning, i.e. begin at verbal warning (which is usually on file for 6 months), if there is no improvement then you would convene a further disciplinary with the potential outcome of a written warning (which is usually on file for 12 months and is based on the verbal warning still being active) so on and so forth….
However, in conduct cases it is possible to skip levels of warning and go straight to final warning or dismissal where the conduct is either serious or gross.
In less severe cases, such as not following a policy or regular lateness, you may take a softer approach and have an informal discussion with the employee and issue a letter of concern before proceeding with your disciplinary process.
It is imperative to note that, in order for any formal warning to be valid, you must ensure you adopt your internal disciplinary process which should be as a minimum:
Written invitation to a hearing (giving the right to be accompanied)
Hold the hearing
Decide on the outcome and convey this in writing
Give the right of appeal
It is also imperative to include all documentation that has formed your investigation with the letter inviting the employee to attend the hearing.
What are the stages of a formal disciplinary procedure?
Stage 1: Verbal Warning
Verbal warnings still forms part of the formal disciplinary process, and whilst it states “verbal” you should still confirm the outcome in writing detailing any areas for improvement or expectations going forward. You would usually issue a verbal warning in cases of minor misconduct / underperformance or initial concerns with levels of absence. The verbal warning will remain on your file for disciplinary purposes for a period of 6 months.
Stage 2: Written Warning
If the matter of concern giving rise to disciplinary action is sufficiently serious, or if there is still an active verbal warning on your file when the disciplinary procedure is instigated, then the next level of sanction is a first written warning which will be confirmed to you in writing following it being issued.
The written warning will remain on your file for disciplinary purposes for a period of 12 months.
Stage 3: Final Written Warning
If the matter of concern giving rise to disciplinary action is sufficiently serious, or if there is still an active written warning on your file when the disciplinary procedure is instigated, then the next level of sanction is a final written warning which will be confirmed to you in writing following it being issued.
The final written warning will remain on your file for disciplinary purposes for a period of 12 months.
Stage 4: Disciplinary Hearing
If the matter of concern giving rise to disciplinary action is sufficiently serious, or if there is still an active final written warning on your file when the disciplinary procedure is instigated, then the next level of sanction is dismissal.
Where the dismissal results through accumulating warnings, the dismissal will be with notice as outlined in your terms and conditions of employment. If the matter is sufficiently serious to bypass the issuing of previous warnings first, and the dismissal is as a result of gross misconduct, then you will not be entitled to notice or pay in lieu of notice.
If you decide to terminate an employee then there are further step that you will need to follow which are explained in a previous blog post: ‘How To Terminate A Staff Contract’
What should you put in your written warnings to an employee?
The first part of any outcome letter should document the date and time of the meeting, the fact that it was a formal disciplinary meeting and whether or not the employee chose to be accompanied by a Trade Union Official or work colleague.
Again, you should reiterate the allegations that were discussed at the meeting and this should be a direct lift from the ‘call to disciplinary’ letter that has previously been issued.
You should include the following (I’ve used the example of consistent lateness to demonstrate how the written warning should read):
- Establish the facts of the case
The first part of the letter should summarise the allegations and the evidence that has been submitted in support of those allegations. For example, “at the meeting we reviewed your clocking in card which appeared to demonstrate that you were late on (insert date) as you arrived at work 30 minutes after you scheduled start time of (insert time)”.
- A brief overview of what was discussed
You should provide a short overview of what was said during the meeting including any explanation that the employee provided for their misconduct, i.e. “At the hearing you confirmed that your contractual start time was (insert time) and that you were aware that persistent lateness could result in disciplinary action as that you had read and signed the employee handbook which documented the company stance on this. The reason you gave for your action was that your commute to work was delaying you causing you to arrive late.”
- Detail why you do not accept their explanation
Having listened to your explanation, I consider this to be unsatisfactory because, upon realising how long your commute to work is taking you, you should be making an effort to leave your house earlier.”
- Identify previous warnings
If you are building on a previous warning you should also refer to this, i.e. “as you are currently in receipt of a verbal warning, you are now being issued with a written warning which will remain on file for 12 months.”
However, you must be aware that you can only build on performance warnings with another performance offence and conduct warnings with a conduct offence.
- Instruct them on the actions they must take to remedy the situation with time frames
For example, “I expect to see an immediate and sustained improvement whereby you attend work at your scheduled start time over the next x number of months/weeks.”
- Finally, you will need to outline the potential consequences should there be no change
“If I do not see an improvement within this time, then the company reserves the right to commence further disciplinary processes which could result in further sanctions being placed on file.”
Additionally, if you are issuing a final written warning then you should state that further sanction may result in dismissal from the company.
How should you issue your written warnings?
Where possible, i.e. if the employee works at the same site at the disciplining office it would be best to hand deliver the written confirmation of a warning as it cannot be argued that they didn’t receive it.
However, in cases where the employee works remotely or at an alternative site, the warning letter should be posted out in normal post and recorded/special delivery.
If you require any further support or advice on writing warnings for employees or any other part of the disciplinary process, then our HR consultants are on hand to assist you.
Please call us on 0845 2626 260 to discuss your business needs.