The decision to take disciplinary action is never easy to make. To help guide you through the process we’ve collated the information you need to know, and advice to follow, in order to, hopefully, make this difficult process easier for all involved
The first place to start is to know that employment tribunals are legally required to take the Acas Code of Practice into account when deciding cases. The code of practice sets out the core principles of fairness for handling disciplinary situations.
All disciplinary’s start with an investigation and it is imperative that this part of the process is as thorough and effective as possible. The BMA suggests ten pointers to help you prepare:
- Compliance: throughout the disciplinary process, it’s essential to follow the Acas Code of Practice.
- Fairness: if a formal investigation is necessary it must be fair and thorough, and the findings shared with the employee.
- Investigation: it is reasonable to ask an employee to attend an investigation meeting at short notice, and unaccompanied, unless your contract gives them extra entitlements.
- Relevance: remember to listen for relevant issues that may impact your report eg. health, disability or pregnancy.
- Action: if the matter is potentially gross misconduct you may consider suspending the employee on full pay. Please seek advice before making this decision.
- Allegations: is the issue related to work performance or conduct? Make sure you have the appropriate documents to hand.
- Policies: what relevant policies do you have in place? Eg capability, sickness absence or social media policies.
- Evidence: what relevant evidence do you have? Eg. papers, email trails, CCTV. Do you need witness statements (written by the witness, signed and dated)?
- Report: compile an investigation report – short or long – detailing the allegation(s), the evidence and the conclusion. The employee will be issued with this report before the hearing.
- Conclusion: if the investigation shows there is no case to answer, write to the employee to confirm no action is to be taken and keep a copy of their file.
Preparing for the hearing
Following investigation, the next stage of the process is the disciplinary hearing. It is important that you prepare for this properly, so that it goes as smoothly as possible. The BMA suggests that this preparation should include:
- Gathering relevant documents.
- Checking statutory rights – the employee has a right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union official.
- Reading the investigation report.
- Structuring the invitation to the disciplinary hearing.
- Creating a document pack.
At the hearing
Open the meeting by introducing the people present and their roles – the chair, who will make the decision, the note-taker, the employee and their representative, if there is one.
Explain that the purpose of the meeting is to consider the allegation(s) and whether disciplinary action is appropriate. Set the expectation that a decision will not be made on the day. Check that the employee has received all the documents and had time to review them.
Ask open questions and listen to the answers. Keep control of the hearing and have a break if tensions rise. Explain that you will take each allegation in turn, and ask the employee for their response. You may ask follow-up questions for clarity, and you may challenge on the basis of the evidence. The note-taker will record the answers. Ask the employee if there is anything else they would like to add.
Thank the employee and representative for their contributions. Confirm when you will be able to make a decision, and that it will be recorded in writing.
After the hearing
Ensure you write up the minutes promptly, and consider your options given all the circumstances, including:
- prior warnings;
- consistency with previous disciplinary outcomes;
- the gravity of the offence;
- any new evidence from the hearing.
Then make your decision. You must decide between:
- no case to answer;
- verbal warning;
- written warning;
- final written warning;
- dismissal (with or without notice).
The next step is to confirm your decision in writing, and give the right of appeal.
The appeal hearing
If they decide to appeal, it should be dealt with impartially and, wherever possible, by a manager or partner who has not been involved in the case before. If you are a single-handed GP, or only have a few partners with a ‘flat’ management structure, this can be a challenge; contact the Employer Advisory Service for advice on your options.
The advice to prepare for an appeal hearing is the same as for a disciplinary hearing. You should also review the appeal letter beforehand, check that the evidence is in order, and prepare your questions.