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Most of the time, the workplace is a picture of serenity. Occasionally, though, problems arise and the grievance and discipline procedures have to be dusted down and put into practice. In this article, Martin Edwards of lawyers Weightmans gives his 10 top tips for dealing with discipline.
- Ensure that you have written disciplinary and grievance procedures, and that all employees are given, or have access to, a copy of them.
- Make sure that your employees understand the policies and how to implement them. In addition, your managers should be trained in how to carry out investigations, hearings and appeals under these procedures.
- Make sure the procedures incorporate the statutory minimum dispute resolution procedures, which should be followed in every case.
- Take seriously any grievance raised by an employee. If you are in any doubt as to whether the employee is raising a formal grievance and wishes to invoke a grievance procedure, seek clarification from him/her.
- Apply your disciplinary/dismissal procedure to any disciplinary or dismissal, even if the ground for dismissal is a reason other than conduct or capability (for example, redundancy, retirement or the end of a fixed-term contract) and regardless of the employee's length of service (an employee may be eligible to bring a tribunal claim without a minimum period of service if, for example, there is an allegation of discrimination).
- Any appeal hearing should be dealt with by a more senior manager than the individual who dealt with the original disciplinary/dismissal/grievance hearing. Larger companies may consider offering a second or third stage of appeal, if their resources allow and provided that each stage of the appeal is conducted properly.
- When you have concluded a dismissal or disciplinary procedure, notify the employee immediately in writing confirming that the process is at an end.
- If the employee is left in any doubt as to whether the process has been completed, s/he may be able to claim an extension to the time limit for bringing a tribunal claim.
- Keep accurate records at all stages of any investigation, disciplinary, dismissal or grievance procedure. This should include minutes of any meetings (which should be signed by the employee), copy letters and e-mails, and telephone attendance notes. Remember that failure to follow the minimum statutory procedures could, in subsequent tribunal proceedings, result in a finding of automatically unfair dismissal and an increase of any award by at least 10% and up to 50%.
- In addition to your obligations to follow the statutory rules when applying your procedures, you should also ensure that you adhere to the wider principals of fairness and reasonableness. Read the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. This provides invaluable guidance on how disciplinary and grievance proceedings should be conducted. A failure to consider or apply the code may lead to a finding of unfair dismissal.
Further details on the discipline and grievance procedure, including checklists on dealing with errant members of staff, can be found in the Forum's Employment Guide and members can also get employment advice from the helpline.