A Guide to Discipline and Grievance Issues for Business

Disciplining employees is one of the most legally risky aspects of running a business. Here’s how to do it safely

A Guide to Discipline and Grievance Issues for Business

When disciplining or dismissing an employee for something they have done, it is vital to follow the proper procedure. Disciplinary procedures are fraught with potential legal trouble for employers; get it wrong and you could find yourself facing an unfair dismissal claim in an employment tribunal.

Establishing clear disciplinary procedures in line with the law, and following them to the letter, will not only ensure you steer clear of legal trouble, but will also enable you to sort out many issues without resorting to extreme measures.

This article covers all you need to know about how to set up a disciplinary and grievance procedure, including what principles apply, how to set disciplinary rules, and how to go about enforcing them.

How do I draw up a disciplinary policy for my business?

The first thing you need to recognise about discipline at work is that it can’t be arbitrary; you need to put a system of rules in place to clarify what is allowed and what isn’t.

How seriously you take misbehaviour at work is largely up to you, but there are some overarching principles you should always have in mind when developing and enforcing a disciplinary procedure. In particular:

  • The rules should be reasonable. The harshness of the potential punishment should be in line with the damage done to your business. Ensure that none of your rules are discriminatory – for example, requiring men to adhere to a different dress code than women.
  • The rules should be applied fairly and consistently. Ensure your procedures are in line with the ACAS Code of Practice, and if you treat someone differently when punishing them for the same offence as someone else, you should be able to explain why. Ensure you have fair procedures in place when misconduct occurs; set up a system of investigation, allow the employee representation at disciplinary hearings, and have an appeals system in place.
  • The rules should be easily available. Make sure you tell employees where they can find the rules; consider distributing a leaflet or putting them prominently on a noticeboard.


How do I go about setting the rules?

First, you need to look at the areas of your business that would benefit from disciplinary rules. In particular:

  • Work conduct and performance.This will depend on your sector but there should be procedures in place to deal with an employees’ performance falling below the level you expect of them.
  • Theft and other criminal offences. Fairly self-explanatory; you should know what to do when someone commits an offence at work such as stealing from a till or colleague.
  • Attitude and attendance matters. This could be turning up late to work or not complying with health and safety regulations.
  • Confidentiality. If your business deals with commercially sensitive information on a regular basis, it would make sense to account for situations where this confidentiality is breached.
  • Inappropriate behaviour. This could cover things like drinking at work, smoking indoors or gambling with colleagues.
  • Offensive conduct. You should know what to do if an employee is racist, or bullies a colleague, for example.
  • Breaches of Internet and email policies. An example would be pirating software on a work computer, or defaming someone over email.


After you have identified which areas you plan to regulate with disciplinary procedures, you need to work out a system of classification for offences; generally, there will be three different ‘levels’ of offence:

  • Gross misconduct. The most serious offences will fall into this category, and will generally warrant immediate dismissal or a final warning.
  • Serious misconduct. Generally, serious misconduct will warrant a formal warning or final written warning.
  • Minor offences. These may be dealt with informally.


After you have developed a tiered system similar to above, you should work on which offences go into which category, although many offences will obviously be a matter of degree.

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