Everything employers need to know about disciplinary hearings

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Ever been tossed the term disciplinary hearing and found yourself scratching your head? Let’s demystify. Essentially, a disciplinary hearing is a formal meeting between the employer (or management) and an employee to address any potential missteps, be they behavioural or performance-related. 

From being chronically late to more serious infractions like aggressive behaviour or being way off hitting targets, there’s a wide range of reasons an employee might face a disciplinary hearing. Disciplinary hearings are held for conduct issues, including gross misconduct, as well as for capability issues, which is when an employee’s performance is in question. Formal meetings are also held for other issues, like if a third party says they don’t want someone back on site, but they’re not necessarily ‘disciplinary hearings’.  

Whatever the reason, the point of the disciplinary hearing is for the manager to explain the allegations. and for the employee to have a chance to say everything they may want to say in their defence before a final decision is made on any potential consequences.

This isn’t just HR jargon – it’s a pivotal part of managing a workforce. But it also can be stressful, sometimes emotional, and complex for both employers and employees. So we’re here to make disciplinary hearings a bit more straightforward for you. 

In this blog, you’ll learn:

  • Disciplinary hearing mistakes to avoid
  • Our handy disciplinary hearing tips for employers
  • Things to avoid when recording a disciplinary hearing
  • An insight into the disciplinary hearing process
  • Taking disciplinary hearing minutes efficiently
  • What you need to include in your employee handbook


Disciplinary hearing mistakes you should avoid

A disciplinary hearing is a balancing act. And like any act, slip-ups can occur. Here’s what to watch out for.

Unfair action

Imagine being handed a month-long suspension for being five minutes late. Sounds harsh? That’s because proportionality matters. Actions should match the gravity of the infraction. 

It’s also common for businesses to:

  • Suddenly discipline employees for things they’ve been able to get away with in the past.
  • Give one employee a harsher sanction than set out in your rules or compared to someone else.
  • Not following a proper process – e.g., making a decision before the employee has a chance to defend themselves.
  • Include past incidents in the current disciplinary.

Make sure you avoid all of these!

Potential repercussions

Missteps can have wide-ranging consequences. They include disgruntled employees, a higher chance of appeals, grievances, and a tense work environment, as well as potential legal ramifications – e.g. tribunal claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal, including constructive dismissal (which is where the employee says they were treated so badly they had no choice but to resign).

Typical blunders

As we explore through our insights on common disciplinary hearing mistakes, common errors made during a disciplinary hearing include:

  • Skipping the all-important investigation phase.
  • Ignoring the viewpoint of the employee in question.
  • Failing to maintain meticulous notes.

Also, think about whether you need to suspend the employee in gross misconduct cases. Usually, you would suspend them when the allegations first come to light, after a brief initial conversation, unless you can remove them from the place/duties the allegations have come from.


Our top disciplinary hearing tips for employers

Navigating a disciplinary hearing calls for tact, empathy and due diligence. Here’s your compass:

Preparation is key

Take the time to get familiar with all the evidence and the written invite with the allegations. Think about what questions you want to ask ahead of time, but during the hearing make sure you adapt those questions (and ask more) depending on what the employee puts forward.

Adhering to procedure

Consistency is key. Following our established disciplinary hearing tips is a good place to start. That includes someone (ideally different from the decision maker) first carrying out a reasonable investigation and:

  • Inviting the employee in writing to the disciplinary hearing, including sending copies of any evidence. 
  • Giving the employee reasonable notice of the hearing and giving them the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague.
  • Making a decision only after the hearing is over. 
  • Make sure the appeal process is handled by someone not involved in the disciplinary hearing and more senior.

Understanding the stages of the disciplinary process

The correct process is essential. The three key stages of the disciplinary process are investigation, disciplinary and appeal – make sure you know how to go about all of them the right way.


Recording a disciplinary hearing – what not to do

Here’s where things can get tricky. An employee might want to record the disciplinary hearing to have an audio account of the meeting, whether that’s just for peace of mind or for any potential appeal process – or even a later claim. You might want to record it for pretty similar reasons. Either way, keep these things in mind:

  • Permission matters – Always – and we mean always – get consent before hitting ‘record’. Stealthy recordings can invite legal trouble.
  • Secret recordings – Similarly to above, if you discover a covert recording, tread lightly. 
  • Don’t rely on recordings – Always have a notetaker in the hearing, because you’ll need a written record for both you and the employee to refer to. 

Discover more in our blog post about recording a disciplinary hearing


What does the disciplinary hearing process look like?

For the uninitiated, the process can appear daunting. Start by formally communicating with the employee. This means a written invite detailing the reasons and process for the hearing. In this, you need to include:

  • The date/time of the hearing (with reasonable notice, which we’d normally say is two working days)
  • Who will be there
  • Details of the allegations
  • Copies of the evidence for those allegations
  • The right to be accompanied
  • A clear warning that it could lead to a formal sanction or (if appropriate) dismissal. 


Make sure you also have a clear understanding of the employee’s rights, from representation to presenting evidence. They also have the right to see all the evidence you’re relying on and to summarise their defence. Their representative can do all of this too, but can’t answer any questions put to the employee. 

And then there are your obligations during the hearing (or the person you’ve appointed to conduct the hearing). You/they must:

  • Allow for all of the above
  • Remain calm and professional
  • Listen to what the employee says
  • Remain impartial and unbiased
  • Make a decision following the hearing once all the submissions have been reviewed

After the hearing, clarity is paramount. Make the decision, confirm it in writing (including the full thought process behind the decision), the sanction, and the right of appeal. Still unsure? Explore our blog post on how to conduct a disciplinary hearing.


Disciplinary meeting minutes: Recording all the vital info

This isn’t your ordinary note-taking. Taking notes helps keep a written record to refer back to, which will be really important for everyone. You should have a separate notetaker in the hearing, as it’s hard to run the hearing and take notes. 

 Here’s what should be on their radar:

  • Document the essentials: date, time, and attendees (including names and job titles)
  • Ensure notes are objective, capturing the facts without bias.
  • Regularly recap significant discussions, making sure all parties are on the same page.
  • Add in the length and details of the adjournment period. 

Want to boost minute-taking skills in your business? Check out our guide on taking disciplinary minutes.


Disciplinary procedures and employee handbooks – what to include?

A good employee handbook helps you let employees know what’s expected of them – from your sickness absence process to how they should treat their colleagues in the workplace. Including an outline of disciplinary procedures in your employee handbook makes sure everyone understands the process should they break any rules or you see a massive drop in performance, and helps protect your business as it’s easier to rely on the rules if they’ve already been set out clearly. 

Investigate more of the benefits and best practices for including disciplinary procedures in employee handbooks here.


How our HR & Employment Law services can help you

As we wrap this up, remember – while disciplinary hearings might seem riddled with challenges, you don’t have to face them alone. Our all-in-one HR & Employment Law support protects your business from every angle. You’ll receive 24/7 expert advice backed up by our advice guarantee, and all your HR documentation and employment contracts will be created and reviewed for you. What’s more, we’ll also provide essential HR training for your employees and even offer on-site support with disciplinary hearings should you need it. 

If you’re interested in teaming up with us, just call 0345 844 1111 or fill in the form on this page and we’ll get right back to you.

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