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Five Mistakes and Assumptions About Disciplinary Action at Work

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Kate has over eight years of experience as an employment and personal injury legal executive. She runs LawCat, a legal explanations website.

If you are subject to disciplinary action in the workplace, this can be an extremely stressful experience for you. It can be tough to know what to do, and it is very easy to jump to conclusions. This article will bring to light and dispel the five most common assumptions people make about disciplinary situations in the workplace.


Assumption 1: Disciplinary Situations Are Always Formal

Disciplinary situations can be dealt with in two different ways; one way is formal, the other is informal.

  • A formal disciplinary procedure involves investigations and meetings; it will go on your employment record and could result in you being dismissed.
  • An informal process is far less structured; it will usually take the form of a discussion or verbal warning. It will not involve meetings or a note being made on your record. It is also far less likely for you to have formal disciplinary action, such as dismissal, taken against you if the matter is being handled informally.

Informal Disciplinary Measures

Raising an issue in an informal manner, such as over coffee, or discreetly, away from your colleges, is a common method used by employers when they have concerns about your work, behaviour, absence or another issue.

An informal discussion, or warning, is the most efficient way for your manager to make you aware that there is an issue and you should not receive this with animosity. You should instead consider it an opportunity to rectify or clarify a situation before it becomes a bigger problem. You can take this opportunity to change or improve your behaviour or obtain evidence of a misunderstanding that has led your employer to believe the incorrect information.

Even though these discussions are informal, it is always a good idea to keep a note of the conversation, in case the issue is raised again.

Your employer does not have to raise a matter informally with you before dealing with it formally.

Assumption 2: There Is No Set Disciplinary Procedure

If your disciplinary issue is handled informally, then there is no rigid structure in place for your employer to follow. However, if the matter is being addressed formally, then your employer should follow the ACAS code of practice which sets out the standards of fairness and reasonable behaviour that employers and employees should follow when dealing with a dispute.

Your Company's Disciplinary Procedure, and What It Should Involve

Your employer’s disciplinary procedure should be easily available to you in writing. It will commonly be included in the documents given to you when you start work, such as your contract or the office manual. This written account of the procedure should explain not only the process itself but also what aspects of your behaviour and performance might lead to disciplinary action in the first place.

1. Verbal and Documented Warnings

The first step in the process will be to make you aware that you are going to potentially be subject to disciplinary action; this may be done verbally, to begin with, but must be confirmed in writing. The letter should lay out all the details of what your employer suspects you of doing wrong and should be detailed enough for you to be able to provide a response or explanation. The letter will also explain that you will be called in for a meeting soon and that you can bring someone with you to that meeting.

2. An Investigation

The second step will taken by your employer. They will investigate the accusations against you by speaking to your co-workers, if it is appropriate for them to do so, they may also gather paper evidence regarding the situation. The investigation could also involve calling you in for an investigatory meeting, where your employer tries to understand what has happened. You can be suspended while this investigation is carried out, but your employer should take no disciplinary action towards you at this stage in the proceedings.

3. A Meeting

The next step will be your employer calling you in for a meeting. This meeting will be to discuss the issues and is your opportunity to put forward your side of events. This meeting must be held at a reasonable time and in a place that you are reasonably able to get to.

4. A Decision

After the meeting, your employer will make a decision. They will decide if you are guilty of the accusations made against you or not. If they have a reasonable belief that you are guilty of the allegations, they will also have to decide their response. They may determine that no reply is needed, or they may give you a warning, or they may dismiss you. This decision will be confirmed in writing.

5. Your Response

If you disagree with the decision made and you believe the decision was reached because not all the evidence was reviewed, or considered properly, then you can appeal that decision.

Assumption 3: Being Suspended Means Your Employer Has Already Decided Your Guilt

If your employer suspends you while they investigate the accusations against you, this is not a punishment, and your employer should make it clear to you that this is not a disciplinary action.

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If you are suspended, you should be told why you should also receive pay while suspended. If you do not receive your wages, then you may be able to make a claim for unlawful deduction of wages. During your suspension, you will keep your employment rights; a suspension will not break your continuity of your employment.

You should also note that if your suspension means you cannot gather evidence to protect yourself, then you will be at a disadvantage during the procedure, and you can appeal any decision made against you.


Assumption 4: You Can Bring Whomever You Want to Your Disciplinary Meeting

If you are going through a formal disciplinary procedure, after your employer has completed their investigation they will call you for a meeting. At this meeting, you will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations and provide evidence disproving them.

If you would like to take someone with you to that meeting, then you will need to request this in writing. You do have the right to be accompanied at this meeting; your employer cannot stop you bringing someone, and they cannot punish someone for coming with you. However, there are restrictions on who your employer has to allow to accompany you. It cannot be whoever you choose.

Your companion can only be either:

  • a colleague
  • a trade union representative
  • a trade union official

Only if none of the above is available can you then ask your employer if you can bring a friend or family member for moral support. Your employer does not have to agree to this, however, unless your employment contract says otherwise.

At the meeting, your companion cannot answer questions on your behalf, but they can discuss matters with you and remind you of things you may have forgotten.


Assumption 5: Once Your Employer Has Made a Decision, That Is the End of It

When you receive a decision, in writing, regarding the outcome of the disciplinary meeting you may not be happy with the decision. You may not believe that the decision is correct or just.

The decision letter should also explain that you can appeal against the ruling. However, you can only appeal if you believe that the decision was reached erroneously, if not all of the evidence was reviewed or if it was not considered properly.

You will have to appeal in writing. Your letter should make it clear that you want to appeal and say why you are appealing.

Once your employer receives your letter, they will arrange another meeting to discuss your appeal. Like the disciplinary meeting, you can be accompanied to this meeting also.

After this meeting, you will be informed of your employer’s decision in writing.

If you are unhappy with the decision at this stage, then you will need to consider other ways of resolving the issues with your employers, such as mediation, ACAS, or legal proceedings.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Katie

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