Disciplinary hearings are stressful and challenging for all involved, and in a smaller business even more so. Relationships in small businesses are often closer and more personal than in larger organisations, which is great when everything is going well, but can make challenging situations even more fraught.
Here are the key steps which need to be included in a disciplinary meeting to make it fair, consistent and successful.
1. Preparation for the employee
Make sure the employee knows where and when the hearing will be, is given full details of the allegations to be discussed in order that he/she can prepare adequately, is made aware of the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union official, and has had the opportunity to request any reasonable adjustments in order to attend the hearing.
2. Preparation for you
Make sure you have all the paperwork you will need, including copies of relevant correspondence, witness statements, other investigatory material and the disciplinary procedure. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself a checklist or script to make sure everything you need to say is covered as it’s easy to forget things in a meeting, particularly if discussions get heated.
3. Adequate minute taking resource
There will need to be a record of the meeting. This could be in the form of formal minutes, or just based on quick notes you are able to make. If at all possible, have someone else there to take notes. Either a secretary or similar who is an experienced minute taker, perhaps your HR adviser who could combine minute taking with their advisory role, or just another trusted member of staff. Having someone else making the notes will relieve some stress from you in the hearing.
4. Opening statement
The chair (the manager running the disciplinary meeting) will start the meeting by outlining the disciplinary procedure, who everyone is and their role and will then outline the disciplinary action that is being brought against the employee. It is important for the chair to define the role of the companion in the meeting as they should not be answering questions on behalf of the employee. They are there as a support or meeting recorder for the employee.
You can also ensure that all the relevant documents have been received by the employee before the meeting to allow them adequate time to review the information.
5. Investigator’s findings
The lead in the investigation will now confirm their findings and any information that the employee needs to be aware of. Witness statements or witnesses themselves will be present in this section to allow the employee to question or give their version of events.
6. Employee presents their case
The employee should now be given the opportunity to have their say. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the employee feels they have been able to successfully put across their case, and answer the allegations made against them. Even if you do impose a disciplinary sanction, relationships will be better and the sanction more likely to be accepted if the employee genuinely feels they’ve been able to have their say and get their points across.
7. Company clarification and summary
This is an opportunity to ask for clarity on any points from the meeting to make sure the business is clear on the information given and the employees point of view. The chair will then sum up key points in the meeting and adjourn for a decision to be reached.
8. Decision making
There is no specific adjournment time that is deemed reasonable in a disciplinary case but you need to ensure that its long enough so that any suggestion of pre-judgement of the decision cannot be upheld. The amount of time it takes to come to a decision will also depend on the complexity of the case. You can reasonably tell the employee that considerations will be taken overnight and they will be aware of the decision the next day.
9. Final summary and close meeting
The chair will resume the disciplinary meeting, summarise all the findings and confirm the sanction to the employee. The employee will need to receive their sanction in written form including the appeals process but this needs to all be confirmed verbally in the meeting as well.
The meeting can then be closed.
If you’d like some advice and support around a disciplinary hearing in your small business, do get in touch.