UK: Disciplinary & Grievance Procedures

Last Updated: 23 October 2009
Article by Karl Limpert

Disciplinary procedures: easy when you know what you're doing, but a costly & bureaucratic nightmare when you don't tick all the right boxes during the process. Getting a clear set of disciplinary rules in place for your organisation isn't difficult, and then following these when the need to go through a disciplinary process arises can save a lot of trouble in the longer-term.

Despite the frequency of errors in following disciplinary rules, applying these shouldn't be difficult, or particularly time-consuming... and there's plenty of support available from Employment Law Clinic, including a convenient flowchart that reminds you of each step, with a summary guide of the points you'll need to consider as you go through the disciplinary process.

Grievance procedures are similar to disciplinary procedures, and are often included in the same company policy. The main difference is that for disciplinary matters, the employer is not happy about the conduct of an employee and will be contemplating action against them; for grievances, the employee is not happy about something related to their employment, and will be looking for something to be done by the employer.

Disciplinary & Grievance Policies in Your Business

Most (but despite the legal requirement for these, not all) employers do have Disciplinary & Grievance Procedures in place. The problems for small businesses often arise from the infrequency with which these need to be considered, and then ensuring the documents are relevant & compliant with the current standards - the ACAS Code of Practice.

Even assuming all points are satisfied, employers will often try to issue a disciplinary penalty in haste, and then think about the need to comply with their own rules & attempt to make the disciplinary process fit their decisions.

In other instances, employers will be thinking about dismissing an employee, and then both try to ensure the disciplinary process leads to this preconceived outcome & the result is achieved as quickly as possible.

Both of these approaches, as well as the various other practices employers adopt, invariably only ever cause unnecessary complications and serve no interest to the business. If the desired result (dismissal or otherwise) is the appropriate action, following the right steps will lead to this, with the decisions reached at the right stage in the disciplinary process, and so protecting the interests of the business at the same time.

With grievances, employers often see an employee as simply being disgruntled, making a fuss about nothing, perhaps assuming the employee does not even understanding what it is they are complaining about. However, for the employee the matter is obviously important, and therefore there's a responsibility on the employer to consider the grievance and treat it seriously.

For clients of Employment Law Clinic, we can be on-hand to discuss the various stages with you, ensuring these are done as promptly & efficiently as possible. If you want to discuss the option of a telephone advice service, please call us on 020 3239 0569 or consider any convenient option to contact us.

About Disciplinary Procedures

Disciplinary rules & procedures are there to ensure the effective operation of your business, setting standards for performance and conduct, and how you will address the matter when the need arises.

Disciplinary procedures should always be designed to encourage & promote improvement where necessary, and not be weighted towards sanctions - sanctions, including dismissal, will be a possibility in the most serious cases, but these would normally be the exception, and certainly not relevant in every case; the procedures should be a key management tool, there to promote good management & good standards among your staff.

The disciplinary rules & procedures will often be unique to your company, reflecting what is necessary in your business. However, common points to include will be:

  • when & how the disciplinary procedures will be applied;
  • who will be involved in disciplinary action, and the possible outcomes;
  • the appeals procedure.

The rules will also cover the type of areas for which the disciplinary procedure might be applied, which could include:

  • general conduct;
  • timekeeping;
  • attendance;
  • personal use of business equipment (including use of telephones, internet, stationery).

This list will not normally include every possible point for which disciplinary action could be necessary, but it should give a clear indication to employees on the types of areas for which the disciplinary procedures might be used.

About Grievance Procedures

A grievance can be a complaint, a concern, or a problem an employee has about their employment. As it can be in no-one's interest for something of this nature to be ignored, it is appropriate that all employers have a formal grievance procedure in place.

Dealing with most grievances can be quick & easy, and should not require much in the way formality – a private chat will often suffice to identify the problem, from which point the employer will often be able to provide reassurances, or address the matter of concern to the employee. Nonetheless, an option should exist for more formal steps for those occasions the matter is not resolved so easily.

Employers are expected to treat all grievances seriously, and take what action may be appropriate to resolve the matter. This does not mean that all employees' grievances must be upheld or settled in the manner favoured by the employee, but the employer should at least to consider the grievance and decide if anything practical can be done to appease the employee.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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