Employers are obliged by law to provide information to Employees about disciplinary and of course grievance procedures. These must be in line with good industrial practice. The disciplinary procedures should include information about the steps the Employer must follow when triggering this process.
These steps will include:
- Investigation – to be reasonable in all of the circumstances of each case and carried out without delay and impartially. It may be advisable to hold an investigation meeting with the Employee prior to deciding whether or the not the formal disciplinary procedure should be triggered.
- Consideration must be given to whether or not the matter warrants further action. Can the allegation be dealt with informally prior to instigating a formal procedure?
- Suspension should be considered but only for the purposes of allowing the Employer freedom and the opportunity to conduct the investigation. If an Employee against whom allegations are made has to be removed from the working environment in order to facilitate that investigation, then suspension may be justified. It should only be imposed when necessary and it should not be a punitive measure. The Employee should be notified of the suspension and the information relevant to that in writing.
- A letter should be sent to the Employee setting out all the allegations, advising them of the time and place of a meeting and their right to bring along a companion – either a trade union representative or a colleague of their choice. The letter should also set out the potential outcome of the meeting and the decision should not be made in advance of the meeting.
- Hold a disciplinary meeting in order to provide the Employee with an opportunity to defend themselves in the face of the allegations. Have a note-taker present.
- Provide the outcome to the Employee in writing indicating that they have a right to appeal against the decision if they are unhappy.
- If an appeal is lodged, send out a letter inviting the Employee to a meeting with an independent person and then communicate the outcome to them.
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If any appropriate procedure is not followed it may give rise to an unfair dismissal claim on procedural grounds, even if the substantive reason for the dismissal is fair. In other words procedure is just as important as the grounds on which to trigger the disciplinary process in the first place.