How to Manage Discipline Issues – the dos and don’ts

Posted on 30th March 2016

All of this month we have been looking at managing employee relations in the workplace.  A lot of the work and advice around this has been about building a culture of trust and engagement so that employees would never dream of doing things they shouldn’t and create a need for a disciplinary process.  However, we are not naive enough to think this never happens, and indeed as HR consultants it is something we have to help new clients with quite regularly!  So I thought for this blog we would look at some of the dos and don’ts to be aware of, to make an unpleasant process as seamless as possible.

Discipline is crucial to the smooth running of a business. Employees need to be made aware of the boundaries they must observe regarding performance and conduct, and employers need to know the correct course of action to take when members of staff overstep the mark or underperform.

It’s important that a business gets its disciplinary policy and procedures right; otherwise, there could be a high price to pay – literally. If you ignore discipline in the workplace or adopt an inconsistent approach, productivity and morale could suffer, employees could become disengaged and unhappy and you could leave yourself open to costly tribunals and claims against your company.

With that in mind, here are some dos and don’ts regarding workplace discipline to help you avoid some of the pitfalls.

DO articulate the company rules clearly and comprehensively. You can’t successfully implement disciplinary policy and procedure without fair, consistent and effective rules relating to conduct and performance and making them clear to employees. Not only should these rules be set out in employee contracts and offers of employment, but you can also compile an employee handbook containing information on the company’s ethos, terms and conditions of employment and policies on leave and sickness. The handbook can also provide guidance on the professional conduct required of employees and details of complaints procedures regarding harassment and bullying.

DON’T be inflexible in your approach to discipline. Not all cases of misconduct or underperformance are equal. It’s important to take a measured approach and make sure your actions are proportionate. For minor transgressions, all that might be necessary is an informal meeting or quiet word with the employee in question. Other more serious breaches will require a more formal approach, following the correct procedures carefully.

DO try to solve the issue within the workplace. If this isn’t possible, consider using a third-party mediator. Although mediators from within the company can be used, the need for complete impartiality sometimes requires the use of external help.

DON’T jump to conclusions or make hasty decisions without exploring all the facts. You can’t make a fair decision without having all the available evidence at your disposal. Even in relatively clear cases of misconduct or poor performance, there could be all kinds of mitigating circumstances. You need to gather as much information as possible before making any decisions, and conduct your investigations with sensitivity and objectivity.

DO refer to the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. This is a key document that sets out the standards for disciplinary measures within the workplace. It’s important that you follow the Code because whether you have done so or not is taken into account by employment tribunals when considering relevant cases. If a tribunal rules that you have “unreasonably failed” to follow the procedures stipulated in the ACAS document, it can adjust any amount of compensation awarded by up to 25%. According to the Code, you must:

  • Conduct the necessary investigations to establish the facts of the case before taking disciplinary action;
  • Inform the employee in writing if a disciplinary procedure will take place following your investigations, giving details of the alleged offence and potential consequences, as well as the time and place of the disciplinary meeting;
  • Allow the employee to be accompanied by a companion at the disciplinary meeting;
  • Allow the employee to appeal your decision if you take disciplinary action against them.

Need more help?

Workplace discipline is a tricky area for employers and there are plenty of pitfalls. That’s why it’s important to get professional advice on the best way to formulate and implement your policies and procedures. At Gateway HR, we can work with your company, assess its unique requirements, and provide expert consultation and practical help.  The starting point for this could be our FREE HR Audit to see how effective your current policies and procedures are.  Have a look here for more details and then call us on 01536 215240 to get it booked.




Emma Wynne Character
Written by:
Emma Wynne
Managing Director