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An essential guide to the dos and don'ts around disciplinary and dismissals

Jo Eccles, from the Forum's business advice team provides some useful pointers on how to deal with a common area of concern for employers. 
Managing a team of staff can be thoroughly rewarding, but the job is not without its troubles, particularly when it comes to the difficult task of disciplining or dismissing a member of staff.

One of the most common problems business owners face is the unenviable task of having to discipline a member of staff or dismiss a member of staff. As an employer it's your job to ensure that you set and uphold standards of work and behaviour that are good for your business and the other members of your team, but it is also essential that you follow the correct procedures for what can be a very difficult issue to tackle.

Dealing with potential disciplinary issues in a timely and effective manner can often nip bad behaviour in the bud and reassure other members of staff before things become a major issue. However if dealt with in the wrong way this can not only have a demotivating effect but also result in legal action. The costs can be significant, with the average tribunal award for unfair dismissal in 2012/13 being £10,127, it pays to get it right.

Disciplinary do's and don'ts

  • Do make sure each employee understands your disciplinary procedures and who they can appeal to as soon as possible and definitely within two months of them starting. These procedures should also be included in your staff handbook.
  • Do remember you should follow different processes depending on the severity of the employee's actions and whether the disciplinary issue relates to performance, or is due to behaviour or misconduct.
  • Do remember you need to allow an employee going through the disciplinary process to be accompanied to any disciplinary meetings by either a work colleague or a trade union representative.
  • Don't bury your head in the sand and hope that the problem will go away. Deal with performance or conduct issues as soon as they arise and don't wait until they become critical.
  • Don't fail to follow the correct procedures set out in the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures as a minimum requirement. If it does develop to a tribunal situation, evidence that these have been followed will be required and failure to follow these, could result in any settlement fees increasing by as much as 25%.

Dismissals

  • Do ensure if you have to resort to dismissing a member of staff that this is done fairly, this means that you have a fair reason for doing so. Common reasons can include, but are not limited to capability, conduct, illegality or redundancy.
  • Do remember that you don't have to take employees with less than 24 months service through a full disciplinary process in order to be dismissed, but you should seek specialist advice to ensure that you are not in breach of employment law.
  • Do remember that in most dismissal situations, employees are entitled to notice either under their contract of employment or to statutory notice depending on the length of service.
  • Do remember should ensure that you pay an employee what they're entitled to including pay up to the date of termination of employment, pay for any unused accrued holidays, pay in lieu of notice and any other contractual benefits after going through the correct redundancy process. It is also worth noting that any redundancy process cannot include the first in last out option.
  • Don't feel pressured to give a reference to an employee who has had their employment terminated. There is no legal obligation to do so. If you do, you should ensure that it is true, accurate and fair and based on documentary evidence to avoid any potential legal action.
  • Don't refuse a request for written reasons for dismissal from an employee with two year's continuous service as they have a right to written reasons within 14 days if requested.

Disciplinary issues are one of the most common areas that businesses will face and ensuring you have the correct procedures in place from the start can avoid any problems later. These issues are complex and it's essential that you act carefully and seek specialist advice before dismissing somebody.

The Forum of Private Business provides members with a legal advice line providing advice on all employment and HR issues. For further information visit www.fpb.org or call us on 0845 130 1722

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