HR & Employment Law Insights

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Whether you work for a small or large company, if you are required to attend a disciplinary hearing, there are certain procedures that must be followed.

There are lots of different reasons why you could be called in to attend a disciplinary hearing such as persistent lateness, bullying, allegations of theft, poor performance or even general conduct. But whatever the reason, as an employee you have certain rights which must be respected.

If you have never been through a disciplinary process before you may not know what to expect and how to ensure you get a fair outcome. We take a look at some of the most important factors.

The disciplinary process

In the modern working world, there are many members of staff who have weaknesses or areas of development upon which they could improve. You would not normally expect to have to attend a disciplinary process for a minor issue.

However, if the shortcomings are substantial or persistent, or if there are several across the board, you may be asked to attend a disciplinary hearing. For this type of scenario, it would be expected that you have had a number of informal meetings to provide feedback and set goals for an improvement. If this hasn't occurred, your employer could be on less than certain ground by attempting to take formal action against you.

If the allegations relate to something more sudden, or a one-off occurrence, such as bullying or theft, you may be asked to refrain from attending work until the matter has been concluded. There may not have been informal meetings held in advance to discuss the subject in depth.

Whatever the reason, if you find yourself facing a disciplinary hearing, it's imperative that you are prepared and you know your rights. For this reason, it can be an excellent idea to take a qualified employment law specialist with you when you attend your hearing.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

You may well think you have an idea about what allegations will be made but in order to provide any kind of defence, you must find out in advance exactly what you are being investigated for. Don't be palmed off with a wishy-washy vague explanation; you need details of exactly what it is that will be discussed.

This means that you have the right to ask your employer what investigations they have performed and what evidence they hold against you. If they have witness statements for example, you have the right to see a copy of them in advance of the hearing so you can prepare your defence. Your employer does not have the right to simply spring information on you on the day. Remember: this process is supposed to be fair and equitable so failing to give someone the chance to mount a defence defies every principle.

Take it seriously

If you don't see yourself at the company long term, you may not think there is any point in getting too bothered by the situation and may even be tempted to let a guilty verdict be lodged against you.

But whilst you might feel relatively laid back about this, there could be repercussions at a later stage. For example, you could be excluded from annual pay rises or bonus payments and if redundancy comes up, you could find yourself top of the 'out' list.

Even if you end up moving to another employer, having a disciplinary offence on your record could hamper your chances. Some employers simply won't take a worker on if they have a blemished history.

Getting ready for the hearing

Your employer should provide you with advance warning of the date, and also explain that you have the right to bring a representative along if you choose. You can attend alone if you prefer but having a person accompanying you can help to provide a steadying influence, especially if you have a tendency to get tied in knots at times.

If the date provided is too short notice for you to reasonably prepare your defence, you are ill or your chosen representative cannot attend on that date, you have the right to postpone the meeting.

You need to carefully plan your defence and ensure that you provide all relevant information plus keep the details relevant and concise. Whilst it's important to state your case, grumbling on about things you can't substantiate won't help your situation.

If you are guilty, the bulk of your defence should rest on any mitigating factors present. This might be the fact that other members of staff engage in the same behaviour or practices, it was your first and only offence, you were unaware it was against the rules, or that you need further support and training in order to achieve your goals.

If you believe the case is being brought due to some kind of discrimination, now is the time to state your allegation and provide evidence in support.

It's also a very good idea to be as positive as possible when questioned; for example, being upbeat about your job and how much you enjoy it, mentioning glowing attributes previously fed back to you by your manager and so on.

Conclusion

If you have never attended a formal disciplinary hearing before, it's easy to make the mistake of assuming it will not be much different than normal performance reviews. However, they are a very different beast and as such, it's important that you take them seriously. Having a qualified law expert can help you make sure you present your case in the best possible light as well as ensuring that your rights are respected and you are treated fairly at all times.

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