Employers crack down on unauthorised absence

Poor timekeeping, unauthorised absence and poor performance levels are rife in the average workplace, according to research by Personnel Today’s sister publication, Employment Review.

When HR practitioners were asked about the issues that frequently gave rise to disciplinary action in their organisation, nearly one in three (30%) cited absence, while a further one in four said poor timekeeping (25%) and poor performance or capability (23%).

The same problems were mentioned as occasional causes of disciplinary proceedings by 61% in relation to absence, 59% in relation to poor timekeeping, and 67% for poor performance or capability.

But the most commonly cited overall cause of disciplinary procedures was the catch-all problem of ‘general misconduct’, said to be a frequent trigger for action by 36% of employers and an occasional one by a further 58%.

Further down the scale, one in 10 employers (10%) said they frequently had to invoke formal disciplinary procedures because of theft, while almost as many (9%) said they had to do so to deal with e-mail or internet misuse.

Most employers also had a less frequent need to use disciplinary procedures to deal with bullying or harassment (68%) and health and safety infringements (51%), while around one in three (32%) did so in response to substance misuse.

The 147 surveyed employers together employ 287,644 staff. Over the past year, they had formally disciplined 5,456 individuals.
Employees who fall foul of disciplinary procedures are most likely to face transfer to another job or downgrading, the Employment Review study shows.

Most employers prefer to downgrade employees rather than dismiss them…

Most of those surveyed said that when they needed a sanction short of dismissal they would transfer (60%) or downgrade (53%) employees. Less commonly, they would suspend them without pay (37%), withhold a bonus (29%), or deny a basic pay rise (23%).

The employers taking part in the survey said they had dismissed a total of 1,359 people in the previous 12 months – around one in four of all those taken through formal disciplinary proceedings.

All the organisations taking part in the study had formal disciplinary policies. More than nine in 10 (91%) said their procedures involved at least three stages and an appeals process (93%), while eight in 10 (78%) set time limits for each stage of the procedure.

…but you can’t say you weren’t warned

Employers use multiple methods of warning employees about the disciplinary procedures they have in place and the sanctions they might face if they fall foul of them.

According to the Employment Review research, three out of four employers (75%) use employee handbooks and contracts of employment to spell out their procedures, while two-thirds raise the issue during induction (67%) or have information on their intranet (62%).

Less commonly, one in four employers (24%) talk about disciplinary procedures in their letters of appointment.

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