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Disciplinary hearings don’t need to be regarded as stressful or antagonistic. They are excellent opportunities to help employees better understand where they could improve.
At its very core, a disciplinary hearing exists to help both you and your employees. When an employee's behavior amounts to alleged misconduct or even gross misconduct, a disciplinary hearing is there to administer disciplinary action.
This disciplinary proceeding 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 and hearing panel, it's good to follow your own disciplinary policy within your organization. You'll have to conduct a full investigation before you can present the rules of evidence to an employee and hear their defense, which could take you and your HR department many business days (or even weeks) to complete.
The hearing itself revolves around establishing the core details of an employee's case. This documentary evidence is not a way to assert authority but to decide what needs to happen next concerning alleged misconduct.
As such, the disciplinary hearing process should be a regular part of your company policy.
This normality doesn't mean that the discipline of business is 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 if the disciplinary committee deems them inadmissible. Thanks to the incident in question and relevant witnesses' testimonies, the employee may face a permanent stain on their record.
However, it's key to remember that disciplinary hearings are also crucial for keeping your organization aligned with its values within a reasonable time. They allow you to reinforce the rules and regulations of your company regularly, thanks to your clear demonstration of solid discipline to ensure respect for the workplace, as well as employment law itself.
It's important to provide your employee with options before you can even put an investigation in place (let alone a disciplinary committee). Most of all, it's best to hold an informal meeting, which is entirely in line with employment law, as is an informal resolution in some cases.
In doing so, you may be able to resolve the issue internally without any need to take any alleged misconduct a step further with a disciplinary proceeding.
However, if you cannot reach an informal solution, the HR department will begin formal proceedings. If this occurs, employees need to be notified from the beginning about their involvement in the disciplinary procedure with plenty of business calendar days to prepare.
According to the ACAS Code of Practice disciplinary hearing process, this announcement will have to be written to ensure a fair disciplinary procedure and the decorum of hearings are followed.
We follow the ACAS Code to handle any disciplinary procedure needs in the UK. This code allows all UK organizations to fall under the same employment law, making managing disputes and an actual hearing easier.
Alternatively, in major overseas cities like New York, the Office of Professions would handle any cases of misconduct in a variety of different fields. This way, employee rights tend to remain the same across multiple sectors.
By strictly following these employment laws, you can uphold the rights of both the organization and the individual. 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 defense for the hearing itself.
While the employee needs to prepare for a disciplinary hearing, so does the HR department and the associated disciplinary committee. 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, provided by audio recordings and the like.
If you do not do this, the hearing itself could result in an unfair dismissal case of the employee in question. In order to best avoid this, the HR department needs to take the investigation step by step for the fairest disciplinary hearing panel proceedings.
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 from 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 organizations will turn to a managing level staff in order to achieve this.
Once the investigation lead is in place, the investigation plan will need to be put together. Amongst others, the main three steps in this plan include:
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 the employee, along with a disciplinary hearing letter. Be sure to arrange the hearing as soon as possible after the investigation has been undertaken.
This timeous arrangement ensures a timely conclusion to the disciplinary action you've taken while keeping the employee grace period in mind. This also allows plenty of time for any further action to be taken afterward.
Again, this invitation will need to be put in writing. In the letter itself, be sure to include the following facts:
Within this letter, be sure to remind your employee that they can 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. To comply with employment laws, this support person must either be a trade union representative, 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, the employer must make reasonable adjustments to all guidelines.
Special allowances must be made for disabled employees. In such cases, an official support worker, friend, or family member who knows about their disability, would also be allowed into the meeting.
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 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 readout 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 and ask their employer relevant disciplinary hearing questions. They may have witnesses of their own to call up. If need be, the companion should also be allowed to talk on behalf of the employee.
Following the questioning process, the adjudicator will then prompt the final stage of the disciplinary process.
The officer or employer now takes time to consider the outcome. Some cases may result in no action needed, but a written warning is usually served for employees with no previous allegations.
However, some hearings may result in a demotion or even dismissal of the employee's employment contract altogether.
To answer one of the main FAQs concerning disciplinary hearings, employees have the right to appeal if they are unhappy with the resolution.
For example, if a permanent employee has to take on a lower level or part-time position or loses their job entirely, they can begin the appeal process immediately.
While you are probably well-versed in your company policy regarding disciplinary hearing best practices, we thought we would impart a few commonly agreed-upon tips for the happiest performance possible.
It is essential that you continue to record the spoken proceedings of a disciplinary hearing yourself, even if you have someone officially taking minutes. Jot down the asked questions, the people who put them forward, and how they were responded to.
If possible, you should assign an employee (or professional typist) that isn’t directly involved with the hearing to take minutes.
In the case of a tribunal escalation, such notes could be used as an official record of the discussed proceedings. You should also ask the employee to review the recorded minutes and date, and sign said documents.
Electronically recording the hearing is advisable, so long as this option is in-line with your company policy and both the employee and employer mutually agree on its allowance.
Precise note-taking in concert with a video recording of a hearing can lessen the possibilities of ambiguous or even misunderstood statements and questions. You can even install microphones on the key hearing members for the best audio quality possible.
Many disciplinary hearings hinge on the quality of the supplied questions. Try to word your questions in an open-ended fashion to allow the employee as much room as needed to explain and justify their case.
Try to avoid loaded or leading questions, as this can interfere with the fairness of the hearing if the employee feels pressured or tricked into answering in a certain way.
It is also in your best interest to ensure that the employee’s responses are as accurate, fair, and true as possible. In some disciplinary cases, the hearing panel will have a predetermined outcome in mind and have little concern for the employee’s appeals.
Although this isn’t a happy occasion that doesn’t mean that it needs to be hostile or disagreeable. Try to maintain a courteous and professional atmosphere, even if the subject is controversial.
You should also avoid antagonizing your employee or putting them under too much pressure. It’s important that you remain open-minded throughout the hearing, and a little bit of empathy can go a long way.
It’s essential that you provide your employees with a safe space to explain themselves calmly. You might find that the employee offers helpful insight or new avenues to explore regarding the case at hand.
Your disciplinary hearing does not need to be conducted in one fell swoop, and you should break up the more demanding or time-consuming cases across the day.
Remember that these situations can be highly stressful for your employee, and prolonged pressure can lead to inaccuracies when an employee’s rationality is impacted by anxiety and exhaustion.
So, we recommend that you pause for recess when appropriate. A short break does wonders for the physical and mental wellbeing and energy of all involved.
Once you return to the matter at hand, both the disciplinary board members and the employee will be refreshed and better able to proceed.
Once you’re ready to wrap things up, please give your employee the chance to verify that the notes taken during the hearing were accurate and a fair reflection of the discussions.
The employee should also be sent a copy of the minutes so that they can reference them in the case of a review or appeal.
It may be the case that one or both sides of the hearing were dissatisfied with how things ended, and the disciplinary process may reignite. You might then need to arrange an ensuing disciplinary hearing.
Of course, if you followed the best practice during your disciplinary hearing, then the need for a retrial or appeal should be kept to a minimum.
Once all the parties are happy that the hearing should close, the hearing should adjourn so that you can carefully consider the provided evidence and make an educated decision.
We would advise against making a decision at the end of a hearing, as you may be accused of making a premature or even preconceived decision. If it is perceived or acknowledged that your hearing was skewed, you could have unfair procedure allegations made against you.
The investigation leading up to the disciplinary hearing, and the disciplinary hearing itself, will probably require a fair amount of time and effort. Therefore, you probably will not want to delay the matter with a prolonged decision.
Once you have finished reviewing the hearing’s proceedings, minutes, conversations, and evidence provided, it’s time to make a decision.
The outcome of a disciplinary hearing should be based on the findings of the hearing itself and the investigative process leading up to the hearing. You should also try to land on the fairest course of action.
You can also draw on previous cases within your company and how your colleagues handled everything. It’s advisable that you consult with the more experienced managers or HR professionals.
There is also your company policy on the matter, and going by the book is always a safe way to resolve any situation. If you do not end up dismissing your employee, it is essential that you provide them with objectives to meet and a timeframe to accomplish them.
An employee needs to be informed of the trial's outcome and your decision as soon as possible. Your improvement program should run timeously so that you can resolve the employee’s offending behavior quickly.
If you find that the employee failed to improve on their flaws or offenses, it could be time to consider dismissal.
Not every disciplinary hearing needs to end in tears.
In some cases, an employee will successfully prove their innocence, or the hearing board will find that their offenses were not severe enough to warrant punishment or correction.
This does not mean that you can forget about the situation, however, as the excused employee could feel bitter or resentful that they had to endure the disciplinary procedure in the first place.
A private conversation with an employee can help to clear the air. You might find that your relationship with the employee has been damaged, so you must put extra care into amending it.
The employee might also feel like they are in trouble, or that they will be closely monitored for any potential problems. It is crucial that you clear any of these fears and convince the employee that they will be treated fairly.
You could also take notes of how you handled the case and how you could improve your procedure for the future. Cases like these are excellent opportunities for managers to improve their leadership skills and styles.
If your employee’s misconduct was deemed not serious, then you could resolve the situation with a straightforward discussion. In this case, you could land on a verbal warning.
However, you should still make a confidential report on the matter to be safe. This situation could manifest again in the future, and having an official record to draw upon is always helpful.
You would hand a formal written warning to an employee if their misconduct required corrective action.
Your first written warning should cover the following:
If your employee fails to follow the clear guidelines set out in your initial written warning, within its effective time frame, then a final written warning can be issued.
However, you do not have to follow a first written warning with a final one. If an employee’s actions are deemed too severe or damaging to the company to be treated lightly, a conclusive written warning can be issued immediately.
Regardless, a final written warning should convince an employee that the company will not tolerate their incorrect behavior and that any further offenses could result in dismissal.
You don’t necessarily need to follow the traditional disciplinary methods and guidelines. If your company policy and employment contract deem it appropriate, you could demote an employee rather than dismiss them.
In the case of gross misconduct, a failure to adhere to a final written warning, or a repeated need for disciplinary action, you may dismiss an employee.
The appropriately authorized manager can only make this decision, and your company policy will outline who has the power to dismiss employees.
Once you have decided that an employee has behaved irreconcilably, you should inform them as soon as possible. They should be briefed on why they are being terminated when their contract will be concluded, their notice period, and their right to make an appeal.
Please ensure that you follow the full legal and contractual disciplinary process before confirming an employee’s dismissal. A failure to follow the rules could lead to an “unfair dismissal” claim.
When a disciplinary meeting is required, be sure to follow employment law in detail. This adherence will ultimately ensure a fair 'trial' for all parties involved and 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 rumor 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 continue this relationship as much as possible.
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.