What is a disciplinary action?
Our employment lawyers define disciplinary action and explain the different types of actions including written warnings, final warnings and dismissal.
15 December 2015
A disciplinary action may follow a disciplinary hearing after a conclusion has been reached about any allegations concerning an employee’s conduct or performance. Not all disciplinary hearings will lead to a finding against an employee.
There are a number of different actions an employer can take after holding a disciplinary hearing with their employee. This is providing the allegations are upheld and the employer followed a fair and reasonable process throughout the disciplinary hearing. Any decision made after a disciplinary hearing should be confirmed shortly afterwards. An employer should inform their employee of any disciplinary action in writing, even if they have already explained it in person.
You have the right to be accompanied to any disciplinary hearing by a colleague and/or trade union representative (even where you are not a member of a trade union). You should check your employer’s policy on companions as they may also allow other people to accompany you.
Disciplinary Actions an Employee May Face
1. No Action
After some disciplinary hearings it might be the case that no action is required.
If you have an investigatory meeting - rather than a - this should not result in any form of disciplinary action. An investigation is simply the first step in the disciplinary process and should be used to determine whether a disciplinary hearing is even needed.
2. Verbal warning
If your conduct or performance is deemed serious enough to require some disciplinary action, but not so serious that a written warning should be issued, your employer can give you a verbal warning.
Verbal warnings are often used in cases where an employee has not been disciplined previously.
It is common for disciplinary procedures to have several stages that an employer must go through before dismissing an employee. Often a verbal warning should precede a written warning.
3. Written Warning
If the outcome of disciplinary hearing is that your performance at work is unsatisfactory, you may be given a written warning. The same applies if misconduct is confirmed at your disciplinary hearing. Some employers may require that you sign a written warning from work in order to acknowledge that you have received it.
A written warning should detail the relevant inappropriate behaviour at work with reference to any relevant employment policy.
If you’re being told by written warning that your work is unsatisfactory, then the warning should detail the improvement in performance required of you. If you have had misconduct confirmed then the written warning should detail the desired change in behaviour.
In either case, a timescale should be outlined. Failure to improve your performance or continued misconduct within this set timescale may result in a final written warning. After the expiry of the written warning, you should seek confirmation from HR that the warning has been removed from any files on you.
4. Final Warning
If you have already received a written warning that has not expired then you could be given a final warning.
A final warning should never be given without good reason. Being issued with a final written warning without receiving a written warning first should be reserved for a serious breach of your employment contract. Serious breaches of employment contracts are often referred to as gross misconduct and can include theft, violence, gross negligence or actions that cause damage to the company. In such extreme cases a written warning is not the only disciplinary action available to your employer. Other disciplinary penalties include demotion or dismissal.
The most common disciplinary actions are warnings and dismissal. However, you could also be demoted or lose your seniority. If you are demoted as a result of your disciplinary hearing your job description should not change unless your employment contract states that your employer is allowed to do this.
Some acts of gross misconduct are so serious that you could be dismissed without any prior warnings. The decision can only be taken by a manager who has the authority to dismiss you. An employer must always follow a fair disciplinary process before they can dismiss an employee for gross misconduct.
If you are dismissed, your employer should let you know why as soon as possible. You should also be told what your notice period is, the date when your contract will end and that you have a right to appeal the decision.
All the above information was correct at the time of publication.