How to… conduct a disciplinary interview

It is increasingly likely that you will be involved in a disciplinary
interview as organisations seek to bolster their disciplinary procedures by
extending the range of offences liable to disciplinary action.

The HR function has a duty to ensure that disciplinary rules are accessible
to all workers and that they understand them.

Knowing that formal disciplinary procedures have been adhered to and that
the employee’s rights have been maintained throughout will minimise the risk of
hefty legal bills and compensation payouts. The value attached to getting
discipline right is reinforced by the fact that when the Advisory, Conciliation
and Arbitration Service (Acas) launched its free online training package on
disciplinary and grievance procedures earlier this year, 1,000 people
registered in the first week.

Where do I start?

Preparation is the key to ensuring any judgement made about an employee’s
behaviour is fair and consistent. Investigate any allegations of misconduct
thoroughly and gather all the relevant information, including written
statements to be used in evidence at the interview. Make sure all leads are
followed up, including those that may prove the allegations are unfounded. Take
into account the worker’s length of service, previous disciplinary record and
mitigating circumstances, such as personal problems.

Once all the evidence has been appraised, you may decide that counselling or
further training is a more appropriate route. If there is a case to answer, a
disciplinary interview needs to be arranged.

Notifying the employee

Inform the worker in writing, detailing the complaint and how the
investigation was conducted, together with copies of witness statements or
other documents that will be used as evidence at the interview. Give them
adequate notice of the interview – a minimum of two working days – and tell
them what to expect.

Under the Employment Relations Act 1999, they have a statutory right to be
accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative. They can also bring
their own supporting evidence.

The company must co-operate if the employee wishes any issue relating to the
enquiry to be investigated – such as the interviewing of a key witness.

The disciplinary interview

Each disciplinary interview will be different but it is essential to impose
a framework. A second manager should be present to take notes. Begin by
qualifying the reasons for the interview and the direction in which it will
proceed. Set the right tone from the outset – the worker must not feel
intimidated by the interview, but must fully understand the seriousness of the
situation. Handled well, it should lead to improvement in an employee’s conduct
or performance.

Present the case against the worker, specifying their transgressions, along
with times and dates. Supporting witnesses should then make their statements,
and may be questioned by both parties. The employee should then present their case.
If new issues or evidence comes to light, the interview may have to be
suspended to make additional enquiries or to re-interview witnesses.

Once all the evidence has been heard, conclude the interview by summarising
the main points. It is usual to adjourn to deliberate the points raised and
decide what action, if any, needs to be taken.

Follow-up action

Where formal disciplinary action is required, the Acas Code of Practice on
Disciplinary and Grievance procedures indicates it may be taken as follows:

– A formal oral warning in the case of minor infringements. The employee
should be advised of the reason behind it, and that it constitutes the first
step of the disciplinary procedure.

– A written warning for more serious offences. The complaint should be
detailed as well as the improvement or change in behaviour required and a
timescale. It should also inform the worker that a final written warning may be
considered if there is no sustained improvement.

– A final written warning where the employee has failed to improve, or where
the offence is sufficiently serious. For all the steps above, the warning
should be disregarded for disciplinary purposes after a specified period.

– The final step might be disciplinary transfer or suspension, provided these
penalties are allowed for in the employment contract, or dismissal. The worker
should be informed of the decision to dismiss as soon as reasonably practical.

The right to appeal

After a warning has been issued, the worker should be allowed a specified
time in which they can appeal. A senior manager who was not involved in the
disciplinary should deal with the appeal, and be ready to overturn a wrong
decision.

Where can I get more info?

Websites

www.hmso.gov.uk
To see the Employment Rights Act 1996; Employment Relations Act 1999;
Employment Act 2002

www.acas.org.uk
To download Acas’s handling discipline and grievance training package and Code
of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures.  Helpline: 08457 47 47 47

For a Legislation guide on grievance procedures go to www.personneltoday.com/lawguides

If you only do five things…

1 Collect all relevant facts

2 Ensure the worker knows the reason for the disciplinary
interview

3 Inform them of their right to be accompanied

4 Follow your organisation’s disciplinary procedures

5 Grant a specified time for an appeal

Expert’s view: Andrew Wareing on disciplinary interviews

Andrew Wareing is director of strategy at the Advisory, Conciliation and
Arbitration Service.

What is HR’s role in the disciplinary interview?

Where line managers have responsibility for carrying out disciplinary
interviews, HR can assist by ensuring all parties understand and follow company
procedures, acting as the second management person at the interview to take
notes and ensure fair play, and by providing information on previous similar
cases and their outcomes.

Are disciplinary interviews often bungled?

If organisations have thought carefully about the interview and made sure
that everyone is clear about what is going to happen, there should be no reason
for things to go wrong. But when they do, the main reasons are usually
insufficient preparation, failure to let the interviewee know why they are
being interviewed, or managers having preconceived ideas.

What key skills are required for good disciplinary interviewers?

The ability to listen carefully to what is being said, and not to make
assumptions. Careful questioning ensures a clear view of the facts, and stay
calm and try to make the worker feel as relaxed as possible.

Does HR attach enough importance to training line managers in this area?

It is very important that those involved in disciplinary procedures are properly
trained. Ignoring or circumventing the procedures when dismissing staff is
likely to have a bearing on the outcome of any subsequent tribunal complaint.
The ideal outcome of a disciplinary interview is to get the worker back on
track. Good training helps managers achieve this outcome.

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