When you are invited to a disciplinary hearing, it can feel like the whole world is against you. But you are not powerless. The structure of a disciplinary meeting is designed to be a fair and balanced review of the situation.
Whatever your employer has alleged you have done, you are entitled to review the evidence against you and present a defence of your situation.
But not every employee knows their rights or expectations when it comes to disciplinary meetings. One study suggests that as many as 50% of employees are not aware of HR policies. This includes disciplinary policies.
Here are some tips for preparing for a disciplinary hearing.
Disciplinary hearings can happen for a number of reasons
Regardless of the industry you work in, or what you have done, there are three reasons why you have been called to a disciplinary hearing:
- Your conduct
- Your capability
- You have been on long-term sick leave
Conduct means something you have done has breached the terms of your employment. This is often expressed as gross misconduct. This can include your behaviour towards staff or doing something that exposes the business to serious risk.
Capability is a criticism of your ability to do your job. This is most often seen in sales roles or similar jobs that are highly target-focused. If you consistently fail to hit your targets, you may be invited to a disciplinary meeting.
Long-term sickness can also be ground for disciplinary. If your condition lasted or is it likely to last at least a year, you should get advice about whether you are disabled under the Equality Act 2010. If you are, your employer may have to make reasonable adjustments to help you do your job.
Preparing for a disciplinary meeting
Your employer must formally notify you of your disciplinary meeting in writing. From that moment, you can get the ball rolling on your defence.
Your meeting invitation will include:
- The allegations made against you
- Supporting evidence for the allegations
- Possible sanctions/implications
- A breakdown of the disciplinary process
- A date and location of the hearing
1. Give yourself enough time to prepare
You are entitled to ask to reschedule your disciplinary meeting. If you feel backed into a corner or you know you won’t be able to gather your defence in time, ask to postpone the meeting.
A disciplinary meeting is often bound up in emotion. You and your employer must rise above them. It is a professional meeting, not an attack or a witch hunt. They must act reasonably, which includes giving you a reasonable amount of time to get your arguments and evidence together.
2. Bring backup with you
Your employer must allow you to bring a work colleague or a trade union rep with you to your disciplinary hearing. If you are part of a union, turn to your rep first. There are two reasons for this:
- They are likely trained in these meetings and are obliged to have your interests at heart
- This is part of the reason why you pay to join a union
If you are not part of a union, you can bring a work colleague. Choose this person carefully. An impartial partner may be better than a work confidant. Ultimately, choose someone you trust.
3. Outline your argument
You will be given a chance to raise any issues and defend your case. To make sure you cover everything, write some notes.
Break down your notes into sections that cover:
- The allegations against you
- The evidence you have
- The evidence they have
- Any tangential issues relevant to the hearing
If you are being called for a disciplinary meeting because of your conduct, have you actually done what they are alleging? If your capability is being called into question, consider whether you have received the training you need to do your job. If the meeting is regarding your long term sickness, is there anything your employer can do to get you back to work? This might be in an alternative capacity or with adjustments to your job.
4. Bring your own evidence
You are entitled to provide evidence in support of your case. This could be documents such as letters from your GP, emails asking for training, or examples of how your employer has dealt with similar problems in the past.
You can also ask people to provide statements in support of your case. Your employer is not allowed to victimise them if they do. You are not allowed to force people to help you, but if they are prepared to help, they are protected by law against discrimination later.
5. Exercise your right to appeal
After your disciplinary hearing, your employer will issue their decision in writing. If you are not satisfied with the decision, you have the right to appeal. There are 4 common ways to challenge your disciplinary decision:
- Challenge the way the disciplinary action was taken against you
- Challenge the evidence on which your employer based their decision
- Challenge the decision your employer took
- Give new evidence in support of your defence
Firstly, you can argue that your employer failed to follow their own disciplinary policy or Acas Code of Practice. You can also challenge the evidence upon which the decision is made. This can be difficult, but since you have the right to review the evidence they have against you, you may be able to challenge its relevance or authenticity.
You can also appeal if a similar situation has been resolved differently. This is common in situations of long-term sickness. For example, an employer deciding in favour of one staff member, but against another.
Finally, you can provide new evidence. This can include something material that you missed the first time around. But you can also simply provide evidence in support of your own character. Ask them to take into account your record, length of service etc.