Article
24 Sep 2021

Tips on Disciplinary Hearing

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What Is A Disciplinary Hearing?

A disciplinary hearing, at its very core, exists to help both you and your employees. In situations where an employee’s behaviour amounts to alleged misconduct, or even gross misconduct, a disciplinary hearing is there to administer disciplinary action. And this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, despite the harsh language in the name itself. 

But before you get to the point of arranging a hearing, it’s good to follow your own disciplinary policy within your organisation. You’ll have to conduct a full investigation before you’re able to present evidence to an employee, and also hear their defence, which could take you and your HR department many weeks to complete. 

The hearing itself revolves around establishing the core details of an employee’s case. They’re not a way to assert authority in themselves, but a way to decide what needs to happen next concerning alleged misconduct. As such, a disciplinary hearing should be a normal part of your own company policy.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not intimidating to deal with, for all parties involved. After all, the process could end with suspension, demotion, and even dismissal for the employee involved. You may lose a valued worker, and the employee themself may face a permanent stain on their record. 

However, it’s key to remember that disciplinary hearings are also important for keeping your organisation in line with its values. They allow you to regularly reinforce the rules and regulations of your company, thanks to your clear demonstration of strong discipline to ensure respect for the workplace, as well as employment law itself. 

What Is The ‘Disciplinary Procedure’ for Employees?

Before even an investigation can be put in place, it’s important to provide your employee with options. Most of all, it’s best to hold an informal meeting, which is entirely in line with employment law. In doing so, you may be able to resolve the issue internally without any need to take any alleged misconduct a step further. 

However, if an informal solution cannot be reached, the HR department will have to begin formal proceedings. If this occurs, employees need to be notified from the beginning about their involvement in the disciplinary procedure. This will have to be done in writing to ensure a fair disciplinary procedure is followed, according to the ACAS Code of Practice. 

In the UK, we follow the ACAS Code in order to handle any disciplinary procedure needs. This allows all UK organisations to fall under the same employment law, making any disputes easier to manage. Alternatively, in major overseas cities like New York, the Office of Professions would handle any and all cases of misconduct in a variety of different fields. This way employee rights tend to remain the same across multiple sectors. 

In strictly following these employment laws, the rights of both the organisation and the individual can be upheld. Be sure to provide this letter that details the need for discipline to be taken in enough time; you need to allow the employee the time to prepare their own defense for the hearing itself. 

How Should HR Prepare For A Disciplinary Hearing?

As the employee needs to prepare for a disciplinary hearing, so does the HR department. In order to ensure a fair and well balanced hearing process, it’s important to stage a long and in depth investigation. In doing so, you’ll be following employment law to the letter, and will also be able to ensure thorough scrutiny of the facts of the employee’s case. 

If you do not do this, the hearing itself could result in an unfair dismissal case by the employee in question. In order to best avoid this, the HR department needs to take the investigation step by step. At the same time, be sure to keep an open line of communication with the employee the disciplinary action is being taken against, which can also prevent an unfair dismissal case being brought against you. 

To begin the investigation, it’s best to get an uninvolved member of staff to lead it up.  Sometimes known as a ‘hearing officer’, this is an impartial co-worker who can be objective concerning both parties involved. Most organisations will turn to a managing level staff in order to achieve this. 

Once you have the investigation lead in place, the investigation plan will need to be put together. Amongst others, the main three steps in this plan include: 

  • finding witnesses and collecting witness statements
  • finding other sources of evidence, such as physical records
  • ensuring all policy guidelines are followed during the investigation

How Do You Invite An Employee To A Disciplinary Hearing?

Once the investigation has been concluded, it’s time to call the employee involved to the hearing. To do that, you’ll need to formally invite them along. Be sure to arrange the hearing as soon as possible after the investigation has been undertaken, to ensure timely conclusion to the disciplinary action you’ve taken, whilst also keeping the employee grace period in mind. This also allows plenty of time for any further action to be taken afterwards. 

Again, this invitation will need to be put in writing. In the letter itself, be sure to include the following facts:

  • The misconduct or poor performance issue that has been raised
  • That you are able to call witnesses, as well as any other evidence you plan to present
  • The date and time as well as the location of the disciplinary meeting
  • The employee’s right to be accompanied, especially if they are disabled and require special support 
  • What outcomes may occur as a result of the meeting

Within this letter, be sure to remind your employee that they are able to bring their own forms of evidence along with them as well. 

Concerning the employee’s right to be accompanied, any employee may bring someone along with them if they feel they need support during the disciplinary process. In order to comply with employment laws, this support person must either be a trade union representative or a trade union official, or a trusted co-worker. 

In certain cases, usually allowed by your specific workplace policy, the employee may be able to bring along a lawyer to the meeting instead. If the employee is disabled however, reasonable adjustments to all guidelines must be made by the employer. In such cases, an official support worker, or friend or family member who knows about their disability, would also be allowed into the meeting. 

How Do You Conduct A Disciplinary Hearing?

When the disciplinary hearing begins, it’s important to allow both sides equal opportunity to present their case. Within the meeting, there should be the employee and their companion, the hearing office, and another uninvolved co-worker in order to take notes of the meeting. 

The hearing officer or employer usually starts. They’ll take this time to present the alleged or  gross misconduct, as well as read out written statements from all witnesses, followed by presenting other forms of evidence they’ve collected. 

The employee will then be able to present their own evidence. In doing so, they’ll be able to address the allegations against them, as well as ask their own questions of their employer. They may have witnesses of their own to call up. If need be, it should also be allowed for the companion to talk on behalf of the employee. 

This will then lead to the final stage of the disciplinary process. The officer or employer now takes time to consider what the outcome will be. Some cases may result in no action needed, but for employees with no previous allegations, a written warning is usually served. However, some hearings may result in a demotion, or even dismissal of the employee’s employment contract altogether. 

If the outcome is found to be harsh or unnecessary: 

To answer one of the main FAQs concerning disciplinary hearings, if the employee is unhappy with the resolution, they have the right to appeal. For example, in the case of a  permanent employee having to take on a lower level or part time position, or losing their job entirely, they can begin the appeal process immediately.  

Conclusion

When a disciplinary meeting is required, as a result of long and drawn out disciplinary proceedings, be sure to follow employment law in detail. This will ultimately ensure a fair ‘trial’ for any and all parties involved, and can help both the employee and employer find common ground in what can be a very upsetting time in their careers. 

Don’t think of a disciplinary hearing as a court case. It’s simply a way to enable calm and streamlined proceedings in a time where gossip and rumour may be flying around the workplace. It’s important to remember you’re both on the same side, working for the same company, and you want to be able to continue this relationship as much as possible. 

Simply make sure you follow the tips above to help you begin proceedings in a timely and considerate manner. Disciplinary hearings are there to help, rather than punish.

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