Beware the following:
1. ‘Leap frogging’
Employers often skip stages of the disciplinary process when their frustration with an employee leads them to make a snap decision to sack them. But by disregarding the correct procedure, bosses could find themselves in an employment tribunal, facing claims of unfair dismissal.
2. Burying your head in the sand
Sometimes known as the ‘Ostrich Manoeuvre’, and common in cases of misconduct or poor performance, employers frequently choose to bury their head in the sand and do nothing. This approach means the employee is often unaware of the problem. However, the onus and legal responsibility is on the employer to ensure staff are aware of acceptable standards and disciplinary procedures.
3. ‘Where angels fear to tread’
Employers often fail to know the difference between acting promptly when a problem occurs and dashing in ‘all guns blazing where angels fear to tread’. Bosses must gather the facts of a case before proceeding with any action, even if an employee has been caught ‘red-handed’.
4. Failure to keep proper records
Employers commonly ignore the importance of collecting data regarding a disciplinary incident as soon as possible after it happens. Witness statements, records and the testimony of the ‘accused’ are all vital, particularly if the matter goes any further.
5. Making assumptions about employees
Bosses need to be fair and, more importantly, be seen to be fair. They must ensure they investigate all the facts of a case, including the employee’s account of the incident, and be as objective as possible. Relevant personal details, such as work experience, length of service and any current warnings against the employee, must all be considered.
Unless employers can prove that staff in disciplinary situations had all been taken through the same procedures and framework, they risk being accused of unfair dismissal unless there are mitigating circumstances that clearly distinguish between different cases.
7. ‘The Sausage Machine’
While it is important to be consistent, it is crucial employers realise that their disciplinary procedure is not simply a sausage machine churning out set outcomes. Each case must be considered on its own merits and the personal details of the employee in question, such as length of service, past disciplinary history and any current warnings, should be considered relevant. Any decision to discipline an employee must be reasonable, and must not discriminate on grounds of race, gender, disability, religious belief or sexual orientation.
Russell says disciplining or dismissing a member of staff may seem straightforward but the procedure can be a minefield for the employer. “With unfair dismissal compensation claims now capable of resulting in payments of more than £50,000, bosses need to be absolutely sure they know how to implement and carry out their disciplinary procedure in a way that protects them and the business, and ensures the employee is treated fairly and lawfully,” she says.
Kate Russell is author of Can I Sack the B*****d? A Practical Guide to Discipline and Dismissal