What is a disciplinary?

Disciplinary At Work Meeting

Updated on 8/11/23


A disciplinary is a procedure to address negative or unprofessional behaviour from an employee. Depending on the seriousness of the misconduct, this may involve anything from delivering a verbal warning to terminating the employee.

There are important steps that must be taken to ensure that any disciplinary action is undertaken fairly, legally and in the best interests of both the employer and employee. In this blog post, we will delve into the disciplinary process, including how a disciplinary works, its implications, and shedding light on how long does a disciplinary stay on your record in the UK.

Why are disciplinaries important?

Disciplinaries are an important part of every workplace, ensuring that employees are held accountable for any improper behaviour or poor performance. This helps everyone to work together to ensure that goals are met, employees are happy, and customers are satisfied with the service they receive.

As proper disciplinary measures can be time-consuming, more informal actions may be dealt with through a one-to-one discussion or verbal warning. However, serious infractions require a formal approach to make sure unprofessional behaviour is addressed effectively. This is when a company disciplinary procedure is needed.

What are the reasons for disciplinary action?

An employee might have received a request to attend a disciplinary meeting because their employer has concerns related to the following:

  • Their behaviour, which could involve something you did or failed to do.
  • Their job performance, where your employer may doubt your ability to perform your duties adequately.
  • Extended periods of absence from work.
  • Other issues that are affecting their job performance.

The letter inviting an employee to this meeting should contain sufficient details to explain the reasons for the invitation. If the employer possesses any evidence, such as proof of misconduct or poor job performance, they should provide this information to the employee in advance. 

Employees should be given ample time to review and prepare for the disciplinary, including gathering supporting evidence and identifying potential witnesses.

If the employer doesn’t provide any evidence, it’s recommended that the employee requests it. This is in case they require more time to thoroughly examine the evidence provided, and therefore have the option to also postpone and extend the disciplinary hearing to prepare. The duration that the employee requests for this extension should be reasonable and justifiable.

What are examples of misconduct?

The disciplinary action for misconduct can take various forms, including such as: 

  • Insubordination
  • Bullying
  • Harassment
  • Being absent without permission 
  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • Violation of safety protocols

What is a company disciplinary procedure

To make sure the process is effective, consistent and fair, it’s best to follow a formal company disciplinary procedure. As well as helping both employees and employers to get the most out of the disciplinary, this means that everyone knows what to expect and is treated fairly.

The disciplinary process is a structured approach used to address and resolve issues of misconduct. It typically involves the following disciplinary procedures steps:

  1. HR is made aware of the misconduct: The first step is to identify and document the alleged misconduct.
  2. Disciplinary investigation: An investigation is conducted to gather evidence and assess the situation objectively.
  3. Invitation to disciplinary hearing: The employee is given the date of the disciplinary hearing to explain their side of the story.
  4. Disciplinary hearing: The employee will attend the meeting with their manager and sometimes with witnesses (if the employee and manager have anybody).
  5. Disciplinary outcome: Based on the investigation findings, a decision is made regarding the appropriate action, which may include warnings, suspensions, or termination.
  6. Appeal process: Most disciplinary procedures include provisions for employees to appeal decisions if they believe the process was unfair or flawed.

The formal disciplinary procedure should be outlined in your company’s policies and included in your employee handbook to make sure everyone knows what to expect from the process.

What happens if a company doesn’t follow the disciplinary procedure?

If employers choose to terminate an employee without first following the proper disciplinary procedures, the company may be in breach of contract and liable for unfair dismissal. Before dismissing an employee, the employer must show that they have a valid reason, and that they acted reasonably in the circumstances.

Aside from the potential legal consequences, failing to follow a disciplinary procedure can result in an unpleasant working environment. This can in turn lead to a decrease in morale and productivity, and other employees may decide to leave.

Although it's worth noting that disciplinaries aren't required during a probation period or prior to an employees probation review meeting.It’s well worth investing in centralised HR system to manage appraisal and disciplinary procedures in one place to make the process more efficient.

Does an employer need to give notice before an investigation?

The employer should give the employee notice before a formal disciplinary investigation to give them time to prepare and ensure that the meeting is productive. Springing an investigation meeting on the employee can leave them feeling attacked, and doesn’t give them ample opportunity to present their side of the case.

In some instances, giving the employee notice of the investigation may avoid the need to see out the full disciplinary procedure. By demonstrating the seriousness of the situation and giving them time to prepare, this can encourage the employee to address their actions without the need for formal intervention.

The disciplinary procedure

1. HR notification of misconduct 

When an instance of misconduct arises within an organisation, HR plays an integral role in addressing and rectifying the issues with the employee. 

This notification process involves identifying and documenting the misconduct, ensuring compliance with legal and company policies, and initiating appropriate disciplinary actions if necessary. 

Effective HR notification procedures help to maintain a fair and transparent work environment while also safeguarding the rights and well-being of employees.

2. The disciplinary investigation

Starting the disciplinary process with an investigation is important to substantiate any claims of unprofessional behaviour before escalating the situation. This also helps to determine whether a disciplinary hearing is required, or whether an informal solution can be reached.

Companies should appoint an investigative officer to collate and review evidence before deciding whether to advance to the next stage of the disciplinary process. Wherever possible, the investigative officer should be impartial to the situation to ensure a fair assessment.

For serious incidents where it’s not possible to find an impartial third party, it might be wise to employ the services of an external mediator.

3. Disciplinary hearing invitation

A disciplinary hearing invitation is a formal and essential step in the process of addressing workplace misconduct or performance issues. This invitation is typically extended by an employer or HR department to an employee who is facing allegations of misconduct or performance-related concerns. 

The purpose of such the disciplinary invitation is to provide the employee with a clear understanding of the issues at hand, the opportunity to present their side of the story, and the chance to bring any evidence or witnesses to the hearing.

4. The disciplinary hearing

Following an investigation into employee misconduct, a disciplinary hearing may be required. The purpose of a disciplinary hearing is not to prove guilt, but to determine whether there is an issue that needs to be addressed, and how to address it.

It’s therefore important to provide balanced evidence from both sides and to keep the hearing confidential to create a reliable picture of the situation. The Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures outlines the steps an employer should follow when handling these issues in the workplace.

A straightforward disciplinary hearing may only last a few hours, while a more complicated case involving a lot of people could take several weeks to complete. Once all the evidence has been reviewed, HR and management representatives should adjourn to assess the case rather than deciding the outcome in the hearing while everyone is present.

5. Disciplinary outcome

After the disciplinary hearing, the employer will decide what, if any, steps should be taken.

Some of the possible decisions that an employer may make after following the company disciplinary procedure include:

  • Taking no action
  • Giving a verbal warning
  • Giving a written warning
  • Writing a poor performance review
  • Outlining a performance improvement plan
  • Demoting the employee
  • Reducing the employee’s salary
  • Terminating the employee

It’s important to ensure that any decisions made following the disciplinary hearing are fair, legal, and in line with the terms stated within the employee’s contract.

6. Disciplinary appeal

In the event that the employee doesn’t agree with the outcome of the disciplinary hearing, they have the right to appeal the decision.

They may choose to do this if they believe:

  • The outcome of the hearing is wrong or unlawful
  • The punishment is too harsh
  • The disciplinary procedure was unfair
  • They have new evidence
  • The employer should hear the appeal, carry out another investigation if necessary, and determine whether a different outcome is appropriate. The person in charge of carrying out the appeal and any further investigation should not have been involved in the initial disciplinary in any way to ensure impartiality.

Should an employer refuse the right to appeal, this could count against them should the case go to an employment tribunal.

How long does a disciplinary stay on an employee record?

In the United Kingdom, there are specific regulations regarding how long a disciplinary stays on record. It’s down to the employer to decide how long a written warning should remain on an employee record. For minor incidents, this could be as little as 6 months, whereas serious infractions may remain on the employee’s record indefinitely.

The period of time that a warning lasts should be outlined clearly in writing as part of the disciplinary outcome. Ideally, these periods should also be included in the company’s official policies and employee handbook.

Prevent disciplinaries with PeopleHR performance review software

Disciplinary procedures should be treated as a last resort and avoided as much as possible. Focusing on open communication and conducting regular performance reviews will help to address any misconduct before it escalates to the point where a formal disciplinary is required.

Regular, effective performance reviews are a great way to ensure that employees understand their strengths and weaknesses, encouraging them to actively work to improve their performance. People HR’s performance review software is a useful tool to improve your company’s performance review cycle and minimise the need for disciplinary action.

Gareth Moss
By Gareth Moss New Business Sales Team Leader

Gareth Moss is a New Business Sales Team Leader with nearly a decade of experience in the Access PeopleHR product. Gareth specialises in serving those within the SMB market, and his passion lies in helping businesses streamline their HR operations. Before transitioning into his current role, Gareth was a HR software product trainer, making him your ‘go to’ guy for all things PeopleHR.