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Disciplinary issues at work
Employers use disciplinary procedures to tell employees that their performance or conduct isn't up to the expected standard and to encourage improvement. If you have been disciplined at work, find out about the disciplinary process.
A disciplinary procedure is a way that your employer can tell you something is wrong. It allows them to explain clearly what improvement is needed and should give you an opportunity to explain your side of the situation. It can lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal in more serious cases.
Before taking formal disciplinary action or dismissing you, your employer may try to raise the matter informally with you. This is often a good way of resolving a problem quickly. Sometimes the problem may be the result of a misunderstanding, and you may be able to provide evidence to clarify the issue.
Your employer can decide to go directly to their formal disciplinary or dismissal procedures.
The Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures
There is an Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures (the Code). It sets out the principles that you and your employer should follow to achieve a reasonable standard of behaviour in handling disciplinary or dismissal situations.
Employer's disciplinary procedures
In line with the Code, your employer's disciplinary procedure is likely to include the following steps:
- a letter from your employer setting out the issue
- a meeting with your employer to discuss the issue
- the ability to appeal your employer's decision
Your employer should put their disciplinary procedure in writing, and make it easily available to you. For example, they could give you the details in the staff handbook. The details should include:
- your employer's disciplinary procedure rules
- what performance and behaviour might lead to disciplinary action
- what action your employer might take
Your employer must also give you, in writing, the name of a person you can apply to if you are dissatisfied with your employer’s decision.
Your employer can also set out their own disciplinary procedures in your employment contract. If your employer has done this and did not follow it, you could sue them for breach of contract.
If your employer does anything you think is unreasonable during a disciplinary procedure, you should tell them in writing and suggest ways to resolve the problem. They may decide to carry on with the procedure anyway, in which case you might decide to use the issue as grounds for an appeal.
Suspension from work
While the disciplinary or dismissal issue is being looked into, your employer may be able to suspend you. You should be told why you are being suspended.
If your employment contract allows you to be suspended without pay, your employer can do so, so long as they are acting reasonably. If your employment contract does not say that your employer can do this, your employer may still be able to suspend you, but with pay. To make it clear that this isn't a punishment, the suspension will be on full pay in most cases.
You keep your employment rights while suspended. If you don't get the right pay you may be able to make a claim to an Employment Tribunal for 'unlawful deduction from wages'.
While suspended, you may be told not to talk to other employees, customers and/or suppliers. If this stops you defending yourself, it may be grounds for appeal. It is up to you whether you listen to this but your employer may take further disciplinary action if you don't.
Northern Ireland has its own separate dispute resolution procedures. You can find out more information on these from the nidirect website.
Where to get help
If you face disciplinary action, and aren't sure what to do, you can get advice about your rights. Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) and your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) provide free and unbiased advice. If you are a member of a trade union, you may be able to get help from your trade union representative.