Disciplinary procedures: meetings and decisions
When giving you the initial statement, or very soon after, your employer must invite you to a meeting to discuss the issues. The meeting is the second step in the statutory procedure.
Arranging the meeting
The meeting which is also known as a 'hearing' must happen before any disciplinary action is taken. If your employer hasn't explained in the statement the reasons why they have reason to discipline you, they have to explain this before the meeting. The meeting itself should:
- be arranged at a reasonable time for you and anyone else involved
- be in a private place, so there are no interruptions
- be at a time that has given you enough time to prepare
If you don't think you've got enough time to prepare then ask your employer for more time. There's no specific minimum amount of time that your employer must give, but they should make sure you know what the meeting is for rather than say 'come into my office for a chat'.
Before the meeting, your employer should give you copies of any written evidence. You should normally be allowed to question any witnesses during the meeting but your employer can choose to make statements from colleagues who don't want to be identified and might prevent you from questioning witnesses.
If your employer has witnesses you should be allowed to bring your own witnesses, or produce witness statements. Prepare carefully, answering any points raised in the statement or further explanation from your employer. If you want you can write down what you want to say and read it out at the meeting.
At the meeting, your employer will explain the complaint and go through the evidence, you can then put your side of the story. You should:
- ask for copies of any notes of the meeting
- list the points you want to make
- listen to what your employer has to say, before giving your side
- remain calm, so you get your points over clearly
If you can't attend the meeting, if you are off sick for example, your employer would be expected to rearrange the meeting at least once if possible. If you are still unable to attend then they can choose to hold the meeting in your absence. In this sort of situation you could try to send in a written statement or perhaps a representative who can explain your side of things.
Your right to be accompanied
You have a legal right to take someone to the meeting with you. This can be a colleague or trade union representative. If you're not a union member, and no colleague is willing to go with you, you can ask to bring someone else. However, if this isn't something agreed in your contract, your employer can refuse.
Your companion can take notes and speak instead of you, but may not answer questions for you. If your companion can't make the meeting, due to illness for example, your employer must postpone it by up to five days. If they refuse, you could consider making a claim to an Industrial Tribunal.
Either at the meeting or shortly after, your employer should tell you their decision. They may chose to tell you personally, but they should also confirm what they have told you in writing. Depending on the reason for the disciplinary action, the decision might be:
- no action
- a verbal warning
- a written warning
- a final warning
The outcome might also be anything else that could resolve the problem. For example an agreement to take part in mediation between yourself and a co-worker with whom you have had personal problems.
Your company's disciplinary procedure should include how many verbal or written warnings are needed before a final warning or dismissal. You should be given a written warning, or if the warning was verbal a written confirmation of it, saying what it was for and how long it will remain in force.
Your employer is allowed to give any type of warning that they think is appropriate. For example, in a case of theft or violence they might decide to go straight to a final warning - or even dismissal. Your employer should always try to act consistently, so if they would give others a verbal warning in a particular situation they shouldn't give you a final warning unless there are good reasons for doing so.
If you're given an official warning without an initial letter and meeting, you should appeal and explain why. This might happen if your employer has treated a simple telling off as an official verbal warning. Although the most common actions are warnings or dismissal, your contract may allow other penalties such as demotion, or suspension without pay. Your employer must not change your job description as a punishment, nor fine you, unless this is allowed by your contract.
Where to get help
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland. You can contact the LRA on 028 9032 1442 from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday.
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.
If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, support and advice from them.