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 some tips for making sure a disciplinary hearing goes as smoothly as possible.
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.
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.
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.
Disruptive or distressed behaviour
It’s not unusual for things to get heated in the context of a disciplinary hearing, and sometimes employees can become argumentative, raise their voice, or become distressed. Try to diffuse these situations if at all possible, and do not get drawn into any kind of argument regardless of what accusations may be thrown at you. Having an external HR consultant present reduces the possibility of argumentative behaviour developing, but if things get too heated, or the employee becomes very distressed, a brief adjournment might be sensible.
Employees are legally entitled to bring a colleague or a trade union official with them to a disciplinary hearing. In a small business there are less likely to be unions, so it is more likely to be a colleague. In most cases colleagues will provide moral support and perhaps take notes, however occasionally there will be a union representative who will want to get more involved in the hearing, or a colleague who feels in a position to do that.
We sometimes get asked whether clients need to allow employees to bring friends or family members to hearings. The answer is no, and we would advise against it in most circumstances. Family members especially are likely to be angry on the employee’s behalf, as they are very personally involved, and the situation is far more likely to become heated and out of control. Angry family members are not helpful to the employee’s case and can derail a hearing easily.
Having 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.
If you’d like some advice and support around a disciplinary hearing in your small business do get in touch.