Undertaking a disciplinary interview.
This checklist provides guidance for managers who are required to hold a formal interview with an employee to correct a problem of illdiscipline, such as unacceptable behaviour or performance, as part of a disciplinary procedure. It should be read in conjunction with the related checklist "Setting Up a Disciplinary Procedure".
Handled correctly a disciplinary interview:
* will tackle the cause of ill-discipline and provide solutions to remedy it
* can prevent further, more serious action needing to be taken against an employee
* will aid general morale, although an ineffective process will have the opposite effect.
Ineffective handling of a disciplinary interview:
* leaves the employee unclear of the problem or how to improve
* can lead to claims of unfair dismissal if the employee is dismissed
* lowers the respect of the manager in the employee's eyes.
National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership
This checklist has relevance for the following standards:
B: Providing direction Unit 8
D: Working with people Units 1 and 2
A disciplinary interview is a meeting between at least one manager and an employee (who may be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative) to investigate and deal with an employee's misconduct in a fair and consistent manner.
1. Prepare for the interview
Preparation and planning before the interview are essential in order to be fair and accurate in making a decision on the employee's conduct. The procedure--and the tone--should be as positive as possible, to help prevent recurrence and to improve behaviour where possible.
a) Gather all the facts
Obtain any written evidence, such as attendance records or production figures, which highlights the employee's misconduct. To obtain a balanced view, look for any special circumstances inside or outside work that may help to explain the problem--for example, low staffing levels or increased demand leading to work overload, or personal difficulties such as caring for a sick child.
b) Check the employee's record
Find out about the employee's previous disciplinary history, if any.
c) Check the organisation's disciplinary procedure
Ascertain what options are available if the employee is guilty of misconduct, bearing in mind their disciplinary record and the seriousness of the offence.
d) Look for similar cases and outcomes
Confer with colleagues to see if they have dealt with similar cases and what the outcomes were. Also try to find out whether the employee is committing an offence which is widespread, for example persistent abuse of smoking rules or bad timekeeping. Is the employee being singled out unfairly over an offence which should be tackled organisation-wide?
e) Try to draw up a structure for the interview
Although no two disciplinary interviews will run exactly the same, a brief structure should be mapped out. Start by trying to define what you need to achieve from the interview and note important points that need to be covered. Thought should be given to the reasons, mitigating circumstances or excuses that the employee might make and how they should be recorded for checking out later. Consider who should be present at the interview, including witnesses.
2. Inform the employee
The employee should be informed in writing of:
* the reason why they face a disciplinary interview
* the time and place of the interview
* who will be present and who may accompany the employee at the interview.
Determine if all present should have access to all documents; in some cases this will not be in the employee's own interests.
Remember to give sufficient notice for the employee to prepare their case. The room where the meeting is to be held must be large enough to accommodate those attending comfortably. A phone is useful to call witnesses but arrange for incoming calls to be diverted to avoid unnecessary interruptions.
The manager responsible for taking notes should be informed in advance, and witnesses called to arrange their availability. If witnesses cannot be present, obtain written statements from them.
3. Conduct the interview
Disciplinary interviews are stressful for both the manager and the employee. Their ultimate purpose is to create a satisfactory environment for all employees.
Remember to try to stay calm and collected; do not let the interview develop into a free-for-all shouting match, and ensure that the employee is aware that the interview is more than an informal reprimand.
Interview length depends on many factors, but it can become clear at any stage that the problem has either cleared up or that there needs to be further investigation, in which case the proceedings should be adjourned. Similarly, the interview should be called to a halt if matters get heated or unconstructive.
There is no set structure for a disciplinary interview; the following is one approach:
Introduce the people present and the reason for them being there (including a manager acting as a witness and taking notes, and any trade union representative).
Communicate the reason for holding a disciplinary interview. Emphasise that it is part of the organisation's disciplinary procedure which exists to ensure that all employees are treated equally and fairly in these matters.
Tell the employee how the interview will be structured; that is, with the case against them being presented first, followed by the employee's reply.
b) Present the case against the employee
Detail the case against the employee, including any dates and times that breaches of discipline occurred. If the case has moved some way along the disciplinary procedure, present an outline of the previous stages, the actions taken and the results.
Call on any witnesses to state what they have seen or heard, or knew; alternatively, read out the written statements if witnesses are unable to attend.
c) Allow the employee to reply
Let the employee respond to the case against them, allowing them to present evidence, including witnesses and statements.
Listen carefully to what the employee has to say, and do not interrupt them while they are speaking.
d) Discuss the case
Allow both sides to ask questions, particularly over ambiguous issues in the evidence. Ask open-ended questions to gain a general picture and more precise questions for specific information. It is important to ascertain whether there were any sound mitigating circumstances, of which you were unaware, for the employee's behaviour. Allow the employee to suggest ways in which the problem can be overcome.
e) Summarise the case
Following the discussion, the main points from both sides should be reiterated and the whole case summarised. When both sides have agreed this to be correct, the interview should be adjourned so that thought can be given to what action is to be taken or whether further investigation will take place. Try to do this as quickly as possible to keep anxiety or doubt to a minimum.
4. Inform the employee of the action to be taken
When you have made the decision (having conferred with colleagues), the employee and his/her representative should be brought together to be informed of the action to be taken, if any. If appropriate, actions for improving the situation should be agreed. These may involve the employer as well as the employee. They should be written down and signed by both parties and a date set for review. The employee should be informed of the appeals procedure if they disagree with the result of the interview or think they have been treated unfairly.
Managers should avoid:
* Neglecting to check the organisation's disciplinary procedure.
* Assuming guilt before the interview.
* Finishing the interview without setting clear goals for the future.
Discipline and grievances at work, Rev ed,
London: Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service, 2005
Producing disciplinary and grievance procedures
London: Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service, 2004 (ACAS self help guide)
Disciplinary and grievance procedures: a guide to the new law
London: Labour Research Department, 2004
Employee relations textbook 4th ed John Gennard and Graham Judge
London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2005
Tolleys managing dismissals: practical guidance on the art of dismissing fairly 2nd ed, Daniel Barnett
Croydon: LexisNexis UK, 2004
Statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures,
London: Incomes Data Services, 2004
This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at: www.managers.org.uk/mic
Setting up a disciplinary policy (102)
Setting up a grievance procedure (054)
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) www.acas.org.uk
An extensive range of advice and downloadable resources on a range of employment law issues.
Practical advice on a range of employment and business issues
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Brandon House, 180 Borough High Street, London SE1 1LW
Tel: 020 7210 3613: www.acas.org.uk