Having to attend any disciplinary meeting will inevitably cause you considerable worry. It could concern allegations about your conduct. Your performance. Or your amount of time off work because of illness. And it could result in a range of different disciplinary sanctions – including dismissal.
So, what should you do to ensure you are treated fairly? Here are our 10 top tips on how best to protect yourself.
Tip 1. Prepare as soon as you can
Good preparation is essential. Begin preparing the moment you become aware of a potential problem or concern.
Make a diary or note of everything that could be relevant to explaining your version of events. Start pulling together any emails, letters, meeting records or anything else that may be relevant. And confirm in writing any conversations you have with your manager that may be relevant – so you have a clear audit trail of who did or said what, and when.
Also make sure you have a copy of all policies, procedures and communications that may be relevant to your case.
Tip 2. Ensure everything is confirmed in writing
You should receive a letter from your employer confirming disciplinary proceedings.
If it is alleged you have done something wrong, this should be explained in clear and unambiguous terms. Your employer should also set out which policies and procedures apply to your case. And how you have fallen short of requirements.
Well in advance of the disciplinary meeting, you must be given copies of all relevant policies. And any evidence that will be considered by the Hearing Manager (analysis, reports, witness statements, etc).
You should be told the names of the Hearing Manager and the Notetaker. Also, your right to be accompanied by either a work colleague or representative of a trade union.
If anything isn’t right, raise your concerns with your employer in writing straightaway.
Tip 3. Understand your rights
Some employers play ‘fast and loose’ with how they handle disciplinary meetings. Do not put up with this:
- Ensure it is absolutely clear whether you are attending a Formal or Informal Meeting. There are important differences between the two. An Informal Meeting should be nothing more than an informal chat. You have no right to be accompanied. But there should be no threats of disciplinary penalties.
- If it’s a Formal Meeting, both a Hearing Manager and Notetaker will be present. You could receive a penalty – ranging from formal warning to dismissal. Here, you should be given at least two woking days’ advance written notice of the meeting and advised of your right to be accompanied by either a colleague or representative of a union.
- Don’t be ‘fobbed off’ with the suggestion that you can only be accompanied by a union representative if one is immediately available. You should have given you enough notice to arrange one. If necessary, your employer must rearrange the disciplinary hearing for another date, to enable you to be accompanied.
- If you are concerned about the independence or impartiality of either the Hearing Manager or Notetaker, raise your concerns in writing in advance of the meeting. Insist that someone else be appointed instead.
- Read the ACAS Code of Practice and ensure you follow its requirements. If your employer doesn’t, it could have to pay you compensation for denying your entitlement to be accompanied to your meeting. Or an extra 25% compensation if you win a case at Employment Tribunal. But, equally, you could have your compensation cut by 25% if you don’t follow the ACAS guidelines.
Seek professional advice from your union, WRS or a solicitor if you are suspect you are being treated incorrectly.
Tip 4. Prepare a Written Statement
You really should produce a high-quality Written Statement. It will enable you to most effectively present your case at the disciplinary meeting and could make all the difference between whether or not you receive a fair outcome.
By doing so you can:
- Present a clear, detailed and persuasive narrative for your case.
- Control how the Hearing Manager understands your case, by presenting your points in a structured way.
- Ensure you cover all the points you need to make.
- Shift the emphasis from merely answering a succession of pre-prepared questions. You will have the chance to get across your own arguments.
- Ensure the minutes record your full case, as your Written Statement will be attached to them.
But don’t send the Hearing Manager an advanced copy of your Written Statement. The first time they should see it is at your disciplinary meeting.
Tip 5. Take a companion to your disciplinary meeting
We cannot stress enough how important it is you are accompanied at any disciplinary hearing.
In law, you are only entitled to be accompanied by either:
- A work colleague, or
- An official or representative of a trade union
And why is it so important to exercise your right to be accompanied? Because you will not only be ‘outside your comfort zone’. But also outnumbered by a Hearing Manager, Notetaker and possibly someone from HR. You might find it difficult putting across your version of events. And you will need an independent witness to what is and is not said, and someone to record key points on your behalf.
If you have no alternative, then make do with taking a work colleague with you. At least they can do the basics – providing you with moral support and reducing the chances of you being mistreated.
But if you have the option, you really should be accompanied by a representative of a trade union. Your union will arrange this if you are already a member. Or WRS can make arrangements for you if you are not. With the support of a union specialist, you will no longer be at risk of being misled or mistreated. And your case can be presented on your behalf in the most persuasive and effective way.
Tip 6. Carefully check the minutes
Don’t underestimate the importance of the meeting minutes. They do not need to be a verbatim record. But they must capture all the key points.
They will be the only official record of your meeting if you take your case to Appeal, or eventually to Employment Tribunal.
The minutes should be sent to you shortly after your disciplinary meeting, whilst details remain fresh in your mind. Typically within a week.
Refusing to sign is not enough if you disagree with the accuracy of the minutes. You must record your objections and proposed changes in writing. Only then will you have a proper record of where you disagree with the content.
Tip 7. Be calm, polite and focused at your disciplinary meeting
Try to remain calm and stick to the facts at your disciplinary meeting:
- Arrive on time and presentable – you want to make a good impression.
- Stick to the facts. Any inconsistencies in your answers will leave you exposed.
- Don’t be hurried into an answer. And if you don’t understand a question then ask for clarification.
- Remain calm and polite.
- Don’t tape the meeting without permission – doing so could be a disciplinary offence. And it will erode trust in you if discovered.
- Only respond to allegations in the original charge letter. No new charges should be added at the meeting.
- Ask for an adjournment if you need a break, the toilet or time to collect your thoughts.
- If there matters upon which you acknowledge being at fault – apologise.
The impression you leave can have a big bearing on the outcome.
Tip 8. Submit a written Appeal if you disagree with the Hearing Manager’s decision
You probably won’t receive a decision on your case on the day of your disciplinary meeting. Instead, you should receive a written Outcome Letter within a reasonable time afterwards.
This should detail the Hearing Manager’s findings on each individual accusation. Full justification for his or her findings. And, where necessary, any proposed disciplinary sanctions. For gross misconduct, you could potentially be dismissed.
If you disagree with the outcome, you must Appeal. The time limit for doing so should be stated in the Outcome Letter. It will usually be within 14 days of you receiving the Outcome Letter. If you don’t Appeal, the compensation you are entitled to at Employment Tribunal could be cut by 25%.
Your Appeal Letter should focus upon how and why you disagree with the Hearing Manager’s findings. We recommend you ask an expert to help you prepare it.
Tip 9. Appeal Hearing – repeat tips 4, 5, 6 and 7 above
An Appeal Manager must have no previous involvement in your disciplinary case or proceedings. They must be someone more senior to the Hearing Manager.
For your Appeal Hearing:
- Prepare a brand-new Written Statement. It shouldn’t be a re-hash of your original one. But instead focus upon dismantling the reasoning behind the Outcome Letter – explaining why its findings were unreasonable or perverse.
- Even if you took the risk of not being accompanied before, it would be foolhardy not to do so now.
- You need to be sure the minutes are accurate.
This will be your last chance to achieve a fair outcome. Or at least, without embarking on costly and stressful legal proceedings which could take many months to complete.
Tip 10 – Keep an ‘eye on the clock’ if considering legal action
Strict time limits apply to when you can make a claim to Employment Tribunal.
For Unfair Dismissal, you must do so within three months of when your contract was terminated. So be careful not to miss out because of delays receiving an outcome to your Appeal Hearing. You may need to do so whilst still awaiting a final response. Otherwise, you could forfeit your right to take your case further.
Support from Workplace Representation Services
WRS can support you in important ways. Especially if you are not already a trade union member. We can:
- Evaluate your case, how best to prepare and construct it, and advise you on your prospects of success.
- Prepare a compelling Written Statement, that gives you the very best prospect of success.
- Arrange for a representative of a trade union to accompany you at any formal Disciplinary or Appeal Hearing. This specialist will present your case in by far the most compelling and effective way.
- Guide you on what to write in your Appeal Letter.
- Advise and support if you want to take your case further to Employment Tribunal.