Disciplinary policy and procedure

Policy overview

We want to provide an environment where employees can work to the best of their ability. We are proud of the willingness and loyalty of our staff to deliver our services.

We provide guidance about the standard of behaviour we expect and any rules that apply. To find out more, read our Code of Conduct.

A disciplinary policy promotes the fair treatment of employees. It also ensures the safe and effective operation of the business. The following procedures provide a framework to address any lapses in conduct. It encourages employees to achieve and maintain acceptable standards.

We will try to deal with incidents of minor misconduct informally.  We will discuss the breach of any rule or procedure in one-to-ones or supervision meetings. These types of meetings can be enough to bring about a change in behaviour. 

We may need to invoke a formal procedure when:

  • there is no improvement
  • a more serious lapse in conduct has occurred

We want to ensure that we deal with disciplinary offences:

  • in a fair and consistent way
  • without prejudice
  • in confidence
  • inline with good practice guidance provided by ACAS

This policy only applies to dismissals connected with disciplinary action and does not apply to situations such as redundancy or non-renewal of a fixed-term contract. In these cases, we will follow a fair and reasonable procedure before dismissal. 

We do not use this policy to deal with issues relating to an employee's capability to perform their role.

Principles

  • Managers and employees should raise and deal with issues promptly. They should not unreasonably delay hearings, discussions or decisions
  • Relevant and necessary investigations, appropriate to the case, will take place
  • Managers should inform employees of the basis of the allegations. Employees should have a chance to respond before any disciplinary decisions are made
  • Employees are entitled to be accompanied at a disciplinary hearing
  • Employees are entitled to a right of appeal against any formal decision made
  • Managers will decide whether meetings should be held in person or virtually or as a hybrid of both.

Misconduct

We may activate the disciplinary procedure for misconduct. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • a breach of health and safety rules or procedures. In some cases, this may constitute gross misconduct
  • lateness and poor timekeeping
  • inappropriate or excessive personal use of our property and equipment
  • failure to report damage to property and equipment as soon as possible
  • a breach of our policies
  • failure to follow reasonable requests and instructions made by a manager. In some cases, this may constitute gross misconduct
  • inappropriate conduct towards other employees or customers, clients, visitors
  • unauthorised absence from work. In some cases, this may constitute gross misconduct
  • aiding or encouraging other employees to breach rules or procedures or to perform other acts of misconduct
  • any other acts we deem to be misconduct

Gross misconduct

We only give dismissal without notice or pay in lieu of notice (summary dismissal) for gross misconduct. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • dishonesty, including falsification of statutory or our documents
  • dangerous practice or infringement of safety rules. These may or may not result in injury or endanger health and safety
  • aggressive, abusive or indecent behaviour
  • some cases of refusal to carry out reasonable requests made by a manager
  • theft or attempted theft
  • serious cases of neglect of duty
  • wilful damage to property
  • unauthorised disclosure of confidential information. For exceptions, read our whistleblowing policy
  • any action which contravenes our policies or has the potential to bring us into disrepute

Actions of gross misconduct include those actions which take place:

  • on our premises
  • in the course of our duty
  • in conduct outside work

Employees may be subject to disciplinary action if their conduct outside work could damage:

  • the council's reputation and standing
  • the employee's reputation
  • the reputation of other members of the council or Councillors

To find out more, read our Code of Conduct.

We may consider some acts committed while not in the course of duty to be gross misconduct. This will be if they are potentially damaging to us, other employees, clients or visitors. For example, if you are convicted of a criminal offence.

Disciplinary procedure

It is important to try to resolve matters informally where appropriate. 

We will discuss concerns about an employee's conduct in one-to-ones or supervision meetings. These types of meetings can be enough to prevent the issue from re-occurring. 

Managers should not wait to address an issue if they need a one-to-one or supervision meeting. They should arrange to meet with the employee to make them aware of any concerns. The employee can then address matters promptly.

Any discussion must include the promotion of health and wellbeing whilst considering the nature of the work and our requirements.

Managers must make notes of the conversation. These must include the outcome, and any remedial action to be taken. They can use either standard one-to-one or supervision notes or a Record of Actions form. 

Managers will keep Record of Action forms locally. They will remove them: 

Managers may invoke the formal disciplinary procedure when:

  • the issue is a more serious incident, or
  • informal steps have not succeeded in resolving matters 

Policy definitions

  • The 'disciplining manager' is the manager who will hear the disciplinary. They must be senior to the employee who has allegedly committed the offence. They will usually be the employee's line manager.
  • The 'investigating manager' is responsible for carrying out the investigation. They will be a manager or investigator appointed as an independent person to undertake the investigation.
  • 'Working days' are Monday to Friday. These exclude Bank Holidays and statutory holidays, regardless of the days an employee works.
  • We recognise that council services use different management structures and levels. Managers holding formal disciplinary hearings will be of an appropriate level. This is in line with the local scheme of delegation.
  • A head of service or above must chair a disciplinary hearing where the outcome may be dismissal. This follows the responsibility for functions in the Constitution.
  • An employee may suggest underlying medical issues as contributing to reasons for the misconduct. Managers may refer employees to occupational health if absent from work due to sickness. They will advise on assisting an employee's return to work and their participation in this procedure.

Investigations

Managers must carry out necessary, reasonable and fair investigations of all potential disciplinary matters. They must establish the facts of the case without any unreasonable delay. There may be a need for a formal investigation before a disciplinary hearing.

Managers will undertake enquiries before they commission a formal investigation. They will talk to all employees involved to see if there is a need for a formal investigation.

Managers will not need a formal investigation when:

  • there is clear evidence to support that the act of misconduct occurred
  • it is unlikely it will uncover further evidence or acts of misconduct

Human Resources (HR) can offer advice on the level of investigation required.

Managers must report allegations of fraud to the counter fraud and investigations team. They must do this before any investigation begins.  This team will work with HR to determine the appropriate next steps. This is in line with our counter fraud policy and our whistleblowing policy.

Before an employer investigation, we will appoint an independent investigating manager. They will carry out the investigation as soon as practical. We have the right to appoint an external investigator where:

  • the issue is complex or serious
  • an external perspective would be of value

The investigating manager will maintain a record of all related meetings. They will collate witness statements, where appropriate. They may refer to them in a disciplinary hearing. 

We may take disciplinary action if an interviewee:

  • provides deliberately false information, or
  • discusses the issue outside of the process

The investigating manager will prepare a report for the disciplining manager who will then determine whether to convene a formal disciplinary hearing. 

Managers may decide not to follow any further formal steps. Employees may need to make some improvements or changes.  Managers may record these as a management action on a Record of Action form. They will discuss and issue these to employees. These will remain as a record for a period of six months.

Employees may ask to be accompanied to investigation meetings by:

  • a work colleague
  • trade union representatives or officials

Employees are responsible for making arrangements to be accompanied. It must not cause a delay. There is no statutory right for employees to be accompanied to investigatory meetings.

Suspensions

We may suspend employees on full pay while investigating or considering an alleged offence.

We may move them to another workplace within the council. 

We will use suspensions where there is a clear need for us to do so. This could be where:

  • the presence of an employee would impede an ongoing investigation, or 
  • an employee presents a significant safeguarding risk

Managers will discuss if a suspension is appropriate with HR. They will also seek agreement with their head of service before suspending an employee.

Managers will advise employees about any decision to suspend them. They will confirm this is this in writing. 

While suspended, employees must be available to be contacted during their normal working hours. They should not engage in other forms of paid, unpaid, casual or relief work during working hours.

We use suspensions to enable a fair and thorough investigation to take place. We do not use them as a form of punishment or to imply guilt. 

Serious or major conduct issues

We reserve the right to involve relevant teams in serious or major conduct issues. This is to ensure that we:

  • carry out appropriate and thorough investigations 
  • apply appropriate outcomes and sanctions
  • learn lessons

This includes but is not limited to:

  • safeguarding issues
  • issues that involve potential criminal activity, include multiple people or counter allegations
  • fraud or theft, including misuse of our property

This list is not exhaustive, but it may involve teams, such as:

  • the safeguarding vulnerable adults team
  • the local authority designated officer (LADO)
  • legal services
  • internal audit

We are committed to involving relevant and appropriate teams whenever necessary. HR will support managers in convening strategy meetings in these circumstances. They will discuss the next steps and how to manage any investigation and disciplinary processes.

Safeguarding concerns

Conduct of employees which affects a child or a vulnerable adult may be a safeguarding issue. In this case, managers will notify:

  • the safeguarding vulnerable adults team, or
  • the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO)

Safeguarding and employment investigations may run at the same time or jointly, where possible. Employment investigations need not wait until the resolution of safeguarding concerns. 

If there are ongoing police enquiries, an HR representative will advise on how to proceed. Safeguarding actions must take priority.

Alleged criminal activity

An employment investigation may run in parallel to any:

  • police investigation
  • court proceedings
  • other external investigations

Managers do not need to await the outcome of an external investigation. They must, however, seek advice from HR before deciding on how to proceed.

Disciplinary hearings

If an investigation finds that there is a case to answer and it is necessary to consider the matter at a formal disciplinary hearing, we will notify the employee in writing.

We will explain the nature of the allegation against them. We will invite them to attend a formal disciplinary hearing. 

The employee's manager or an alternative manager will conduct the hearing. They will be a manager who has not led the investigation process. This follows the guidance in the local scheme of delegation. 

The manager will arrange for a second manager to attend the hearing, or an HR representative to provide advice on policy and procedure. The manager should consider asking for both if it is a serious or major conduct issue. They must also arrange a note-taker.

Dismissal may be an outcome when:

  • the alleged offence is potentially gross misconduct, or
  • the employee has a current live written or final written warning

In either case, a senior manager with authority to dismiss will chair a disciplinary panel. The panel will consist of:

  • the chair (usually the head of service or someone at an equivalent or higher level)
  • a second senior manager from the same or a different service area
  • an HR representative to provide advice on policy and procedure

The following will apply in disciplinary hearings:

  • The employee will receive written notification to attend a hearing. It will contain sufficient information about the alleged misconduct. It will state that we may take disciplinary action as a result of the hearing. It enables the employee to prepare to answer the case at the hearing.
  • Both parties will provide copies of any written evidence before the hearing. Where appropriate, this will include witness statements. The hearing will rely on all documents submitted in advance to support or dispute the allegation.
  • The notification will:
    • provide ten working days' notice of the hearing
    • confirm the details of the time and venue
    • advise the employee of their right to be accompanied at the hearing
    • request details of witnesses that either party will be calling to the hearing

The employee may bring a companion who is:

  • a trade union representative
  • a work colleague
  • an official employed by a trade union

No other companions will be permitted to attend the hearing.

The manager may make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee. They may permit an alternative companion. The employee should discuss this with the disciplining manager in advance.

In all cases the employee must tell the disciplining manager who their chosen companion is. They must do this at least 24 hours before the hearing.

  • If we do not know the trade union official, they must provide documentation from the relevant trade union. It must state that they are a union representative and authorised by that union to represent employees.
  • If employed by us, we will allow the companion reasonable time off without loss of pay. No one is obliged to act as a companion if they do not wish to do so.
  • The employee can request to re-schedule a hearing if they or the companion are unavailable. It must take place within the following five working days. Employees must not fail to attend the re-arranged hearing without justification. They will be advised that managers can consider a case in an employee's absence based upon the written submissions. 
  • The companion can:
    • address the meeting to present and sum up the employee's case
    • respond on behalf of the employee to any views expressed at the meeting
    • confer with the employee during the meeting
  • The companion cannot:
    • answer questions on the employee's behalf
    • address the hearing if the employee does not wish it
    • prevent the employer from explaining their case

The disciplining manager may tell the employee their decision:

  • at the end of the hearing
  • following an adjournment
  • as soon as reasonably possible following the hearing

We will confirm in writing with the employee:

  • the decision, together with the reasons for any warning
  • the duration of the warning
  • what will happen if further offences occur
  • the right of appeal

Disciplinary sanctions

The outcome of a disciplinary hearing may be that:

  • we take no formal action
  • there is a need for action, but a formal warning or dismissal is not appropriate

Any action taken outside of a formal sanction is called management action. The manager will record this on a Record of Action form and in the disciplinary hearing records.

Written warnings

The outcome of a hearing may be to issue a written warning. 

We will advise the employee of the reasons for the warning and confirm this in writing.

We will keep a copy of the written warning on the employee’s personal file. It is usually disregarded for disciplinary purposes after six months. 

In some cases, we may take an expired warning into account for further acts of misconduct.  For example, where we give a warning in relation to a safeguarding concern. It will remain on file indefinitely. It may be referred to if future safeguarding concerns arise. We will only do this in agreement with HR.

Final written warnings

We may give the employee a final written warning if:

  • there is a failure to change behaviour within the duration of a prior warning
  • a further act of misconduct occurs
  • the offence is sufficiently serious

We will advise the employee of the reasons for the warning and confirm this in writing. 

We will keep a copy of the final written warning on the employee’s personal file. It is usually disregarded for disciplinary purposes after 12 months. 

In some cases, we may take an expired warning into account for further acts of misconduct.  For example, where we give a warning in relation to a safeguarding concern. It will remain on file indefinitely. It may be referred to if future safeguarding concerns arise. We will only do this in agreement with HR.

Dismissal

We may dismiss an employee, with notice, if:

  • their conduct still fails to improve, or
  • another act of misconduct occurs during the life of a prior warning

We may omit or add to any stage of the disciplinary process, depending on the seriousness of the misconduct.

Summary dismissal

In the case of gross misconduct only, we may dismiss the employee without notice.

Extension of a live warning

In some cases, a manager may extend the period of a current live warning. They can do this rather than issue a next stage warning or proceed to dismissal. 

The period of extension can be:

  • a written warning extended for up to a further six months
  • a final written warning extended for up to a further 12 months

Managers can extend live warnings if an employee has a period of absence during a current warning. It only applies if the employee is absent for 28 consecutive calendar days or more. It may refer to absences for sickness, family leave or any other circumstances.

The period of extension must not exceed the length of the period of absence. It must not extend the warning for a live period of longer than the original life of the warning. For example, an employee has a warning for six months and, after four months, they are absent for three months. The manager can extend the warning on their return for up to two months. It means that the warning is live, while the employee is in work, for a period of six months.

Some other substantial reason

We have procedures to deal with situations that could result in the dismissal of an employee. For example, this may occur due to:

  • disciplinary
  • capability
  • absence
  • redundancy

There are times where the reason for dismissal may not fall within the policies we provide, or within the misconduct or gross misconduct categories included within this policy. This is known as a dismissal for Some Other Substantial Reason (SOSR). An example of SOSR is:

  • imprisonment
  • other criminal conviction
  • a persons right to work in the UK is withdrawn, which may affect the employees ability to carry out normal duties

Withholding incremental salary progression

We may withhold an employees pay increment during the live period of a formal warning or notice period.

Transfer

An outcome of a disciplinary matter may be that it is not appropriate for an employee to continue in their current post. They may need to consider a transfer to an alternative position. A transfer to another job could be:

  • a role at the same or lower grade
  • in a different service area or work base

Where this applies, and the employee agrees to the transfer, At-Risk status and salary protection will not apply. We will confirm any agreement to such a transfer in writing. This will be separate to any disciplinary warning we issue.

Referrals to statutory bodies

We have a legal duty to refer information to statutory bodies where required. For example, we must refer information to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) when:

  • an individual is removed from working or volunteering with children or vulnerable adults
  • there are concerns about an individuals contact with children or vulnerable adults

For information about recruitment and vetting checks, read our recruitment and vetting checks – criminal records policy.

Other statutory bodies include The Teaching Regulation Agency and Social Work England.

Appeals

An employee can appeal the outcome of any disciplinary hearing in writing. We must receive this within ten working days from the date that the employee is deemed to have received the letter confirming outcomes from the disciplinary hearing. To find out more about the appeals procedure, read our appeals policy.

Employee records

We commit to the appropriate retention of disciplinary and conduct information in accordance with legal requirements. 

Our employee records system will hold key dates and outcomes concerning disciplinary matters. The employee’s manager can access this during the live period of a warning and the following retention period. We will disregard warnings for disciplinary purposes at the end of the live warning period. 

HR will maintain a scanned copy of any disciplinary papers in a secure manner. We will destroy all documents after the relevant retention period, as per our retention and disposal schedule.