© Copyright 2010 - Birchall Blackburn Solicitors. All Rights Reserved

Disciplinary Procedures

A disciplinary procedure should be clear, consistent and comply with employment law best practice.  It should be made available to all staff and managers should be fully familiar with it before they attempt to conduct a disciplinary process.


The principles behind a fair disciplinary process include:

Representative at the disciplinary hearing;


These are core rights and any failure in these principles is likely to result in a finding of unfair dismissal.  The Procedure should be contained in a policy on conducting a disciplinary process in relation to Conduct and Poor Performance/Capability.  This is because absence and ill health are not necessarily fault based.  Someone may be genuinely very ill and yet can be fairly dismissed because there are no real prospects of the employee returning to work.  To use a disciplinary procedure in this event would be inappropriate and heavy handed.



Gross Misconduct is conduct that goes to the root of the contract and which is so serious as to cause the employer to lose trust and confidence in the employee.  There are some obvious examples that will always be Gross Misconduct, such as:


Most conduct matters can fall into either category or Misconduct or Gross Misconduct.  However, there are a number of matters which may amount to Gross Misconduct in some businesses, but not others.


In these circumstances, if the employer has made it clear in their procedures and your contract that they view such behaviour as gross misconduct, and they can justify the categorisation, then such behaviour is likely to amount to gross misconduct.


For example:  a Company may have a non-smoking policy in the yard, but which excludes the designated smoking area.  Joe is caught smoking outside the designated area, but still in the yard and near to it.  In this case, Joe has committed an act of misconduct, but probably not one of gross misconduct.  However, if the Company has a blanket ban on smoking anywhere within its premises whether inside or outside, and this is vital due to the flammable material necessary present on the premises, if Joe lit up a cigarette in these circumstances he would probably be guilty of gross misconduct.


Let me go through a scenario to explain how the process should work.


The employee, Joe, works on a building site as a labourer.  Health and Safety requires that he has steel toe-capped boots on.


He is carrying some paving slabs and he drops one on his feet, and breaks his big toe (owwww).


On the face of the evidence so far he has seriously breached Health and Safety by not wearing the protective boots he was provided with.  He has also failed to follow a management instruction.  Because the allegation might amount to Gross Misconduct he is suspended on pay and an investigation meeting is arranged for the day after.


The investigation goes ahead and Joe attends an investigation hearing.  In the hearing he says he should have been wearing steel toe-capped boots and he accepts that he was provided with the boots.  He says he was away over the weekend and came straight from his girlfriend into work and that his boots were at home.  He says that he thought he would be okay with trainers for 1 day.


A disciplinary letter is sent out and he is required to attend the disciplinary hearing, he is told of the allegations and is notified of his right to be accompanied by a work colleague or a Trade Union Representative.


He is accompanied by a Union Representative at the disciplinary.


The person conducting the disciplinary should ask Joe to make any representations and produce any relevant evidence. In this case the evidence is clear he was not wearing the protective boots. The disciplinary officer will conclude that he has breached company Health and Safety procedures. He has also clearly failed to obey company instructions and put himself at risk of injury. This is capable of amounting to gross misconduct. Therefore he could be dismissed for Gross Misconduct.


The correct procedures have been followed; this doesn’t mean that the disciplinary officer has to dismiss Joe. He could decide that a “final written warning” would suffice taking into account his length of service and the fact that he was injured and will surely learn from his mistake.


The fact is that a harsh employer can be a fair employee and that some employees may dismiss in this particular scenario and some may not. Unfair dismissal law allows the employer flexibility in their response provided they are being reasonable.


Once a decision has been made and Joe is notified of the decision in writing he must get an opportunity to have an appeal.


Ultimately in this scenario provided the procedure is correctly followed an Employment Tribunal would not find that the dismissal was unfair. An Employment Tribunal is not there to rehear the case, like another appeal and make its own decision. Its task is to determine whether the employer has followed the correct procedure and that the decision is one that a reasonable employer could make.



The difference between the Conduct Disciplinary Process and the Gross Misconduct Disciplinary Process

The misconduct disciplinary process involves several warnings prior to being dismissal.


The process is:


There are occasions in which the employer will be permitted to go to a higher warning level straight away, for example, if they decide to give a final written warning as a direct alternative to dismissal for gross misconduct.  The warnings do not have to be for the same thing any misconduct is fine, but be careful to ensure that at each step in the process there has been a full disciplinary procedure conducted, that the employee has been given a disciplinary hearing before the warning is given and that they have had a right of appeal.


Sometimes problems arise when absence for genuine ill health results in warnings and the employer mixes these up with misconduct warnings they are not the same thing.


In conclusion, this article has explained the principles involved in a fair disciplinary process, the stages in the process, such as investigation, disciplinary and the appeal, the differences between Misconduct and Gross Misconduct, the method of conducting an investigation and disciplinary and the different stages of a warning process.  We hope that the article has been helpful, but there is no real substitute for specific advice from us directly.  If you do need some help give us a call.