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

What is gross misconduct?

When looking at what offences constitute gross misconduct, these will typically include:

  • Theft
  • Falsifying documents
  • Sending malicious emails
  • Racial or sexual harassment
  • Drug use
  • Gross insubordination
  • Serious breaches of IT policy
  • Unauthorised absences (where they will seriously affect the business as a result)

 

In addition to the general offences outlined above, there will probably be some offences specific to your sector that you can view as gross misconduct; for example, if you employ security guards, it may be gross misconduct if they leave their post.

It is important to note that just because you classify an offence as ‘gross misconduct’, it doesn’t mean it necessarily is in the eyes of the law. If someone brings a tribunal claim against you, it will be up to the tribunal to decide whether what they did actually was ‘gross’ misconduct and whether you were reasonable in dismissing them for that reason. So you should limit it to behaviour that you consider dismissible in itself.

How should I handle disciplinary issues at work?

When an offence or misconduct occurs at work, you need to know how to handle it.

Firstly, do not give anyone the power to deal with disciplinary matters unless they are properly trained; many cases are lost in the employment tribunal because a manager has ignored or misunderstood the procedures already in place.

Secondly, you should always have the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance Procedures at Work in mind (we deal with this in more detail below). It pays to read the whole text of this, because tribunals will take whether or not it has been complied with into account when deciding cases, although a summary is available below.

When an offence occurs, follow these steps:

  • Investigate fully. Never jump to conclusions – always carry out a full investigation to establish what really happened. Ask any witnesses what happened, and take down a written statement if you can. In gross misconduct issues where it’s likely you will dismiss the employee if you find they committed the offence in question, it is normal practice to suspend them on full pay whilst you investigate.
  • Look at the sanctions you are considering. Some very serious might merit dismissal, or some other drastic measure such as demotion. Consider whether the offence merits a warning and whether this needs to be in writing or a final written warning.
  • Consider whether you can deal with the problem informally. Not all issues have to be dealt with by throwing the book at an employee. Sometimes a quiet word is enough, or an appraisal where you and the employee work together to improve the behaviour in issue.
  • If not, move on to your formal procedures.
  • Keep a detailed log of decisions taken so you can refer back to it in the event of a dispute and keep a record of warnings issued to employees.

 

Sometimes you will find there is no alternative but to dismiss an employee for misconduct. Handle this stage particularly carefully, as any missteps are likely to result in tribunal proceedings. In particular:

  • Give the employee the appropriate notice period in line with statute or any periods outlined in their employment contract.
  • Give reasons in writing along with any supporting evidence. If you have done the dismissal fairly and by the book, this may deter your ex-employee from bringing a claim.

 

What is the ACAS Code of Practice?

The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures sets out a comprehensive framework for employers to follow when disciplining an employee. You should read the full text at least once, as it contains a lot of important information, but generally to comply with the Code you should:

  • Put your procedures in writing. Make these available to everyone affected and ensure they are easy to understand.
  • Deal with issues promptly and consistently.
  • Establish the facts by carrying out investigations.
  • Inform employees affected in good time. You should give them enough time to prepare to answer the allegations against them.
  • Give employees the opportunity to put their case. They should also be allowed to appeal against serious sanctions such as demotion or dismissal.

 

You should always follow the ACAS Code – if you fail to do so, any tribunal award made against you can be increased by up to 25%.

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