The disciplinary meeting, or hearing, forms an important stage in a fair and lawful disciplinary procedure.
A disciplinary meeting should usually be held after an investigation has been carried out into concerns or allegations relating to an employee’s conduct.
The purpose of the meeting is to allow the employee to answer the accusations facing
them, for all the relevant evidence and witness statements collected during the investigation to be presented, and for the employer to come to a decision on whether disciplinary action should take place and if so, what form that action should take.
It will be important to ensure the meeting is conducted effectively and that the right questions are asked and the right issues discussed.
Questions to ask at a disciplinary hearing
The line of questioning should be tailored to the specific allegations and issues of the matter. After the hearing, the employer should have all relevant information and evidence and be in a position to make an informed decision on the disciplinary issue.
We look at some of the commonly asked questions which can help to shape your meeting preparation.
Confirmation of employee understanding
At the outset of the hearing, you should seek confirmation that the employee understands why they are at the disciplinary meeting and the possible consequences they face, and that they have been provided with all required information by their employer. Questions could include:
- Can the employee confirm they have received details in writing of the allegations against them?
- Do they understand the nature of the allegations being made against them?
- Are they aware that the behaviour connected with the disciplinary investigation is unacceptable?
- Can the employee confirm they have been given access to the organisation’s disciplinary procedure?
- Does the employee understand the possible disciplinary consequences, e.g. a warning, demotion or dismissal?
The employee answers the accusations against them
The employee must be given the opportunity to put forward their side of the story, whether that is to deny the accusation or explain why they behaved in an unacceptable way.
Ask the employee to explain the events that have led to the disciplinary. What happened? Who was present?
The employer’s specific questioning will depend on the nature of the issue, such as whether the issue relates to a grievance from another employee, the employee’s conduct or performance or if there is alleged gross misconduct.
Are there mitigating circumstances to take into account, for instance, tiredness or ill health?
The employee should be allowed to present any evidence they have gathered or call witnesses to support their case.
Responding to evidence
As part of a fair disciplinary hearing, all evidence against the employee should be presented. This could include CCTV footage, documentation or witness statements, and witnesses can also be called to answer questions at the meeting.
The employee should be given the opportunity to explain or comment on the evidence being relied on.
At the end of the meeting, once all the evidence has been examined and all questions asked and answered, the employee should be asked if there is anything more they would like to add or ask.
This gives the employee the opportunity to react to any evidence or questions that came up during the meeting.
As a final step, the employee should be allowed to look at the meeting notes and sign and date the document as a true reflection of the discussion. A copy of this record should then be forwarded to the employee. This can prove invaluable in the event of any subsequent allegations that the hearing was conducted unfairly.
How you approach the questions will also be important. You want to keep the session professional. Avoid hostility or asking in an aggressive manner. It can be a daunting experience for the employee but it helps to try and keep emotions under control to ensure the meeting stays on track and the relevant material is covered and discussed.
Questions should be straightforward to avoid confusion or misinterpretation. Also avoid leading questions that indicate an assumption about the answer.
The majority of the questions should be open-ended, for instance, ‘could you explain…’ or ‘tell us more about…’ rather than asking for a simple yes or no. This may not always be possible but open-ended questions offer an opportunity to open up and explain more fully than a closed question.
Effective questioning must carry a level of flexibility. Although the employer should prepare a set of questions before the disciplinary meeting, you will also need to listen to the responses and be prepared to ask more questions to clarify any queries.
Who should attend?
Another consideration will be who should attend the hearing. Typically, this would include:
- The employee’s line manager
- HR department representative
- A member of staff who will minute the meeting
- The employee
- If the employee is to be accompanied – a colleague, trade union representative
- Witnesses, called by the employer or employee
For smaller organisations without an HR representative, it may be advisable to seek external help by brining in an independent HR specialist to chair the meeting. This can be beneficial in demonstrating fairness and objectivity in conducting the meeting and avoid potential future complaints from the employee about procedural deficiencies.
After the disciplinary hearing
It may be necessary to ask for further information or clarification before a decision can be made. In this case, the investigation will continue and another disciplinary meeting should be arranged.
Otherwise, a decision should be made as soon as reasonably practicable on whether disciplinary action is to be taken against the employee, be that a warning, suspension, demotion, dismissal or other punitive measure as outlined in the company disciplinary policy.
The employee must be notified of the decision in writing, and given the opportunity to appeal.
In the event an employee is dismissed following a disciplinary procedure, they may be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal if they can show the employer failed to follow a fair process.
It is important therefore that personnel with people management responsibilities adequately trained and understand their responsibilities when handling disciplinary issues and how to follow a lawful process and avoid risking tribunal claims.