Nasty disciplinaries

May 14, 2014

Every employer will at some time or another have to go through a disciplinary procedure with an employee. Getting this process right is not always easy, and the consequences of not following the correct procedure can be costly and sometime unexpected – as was recently the case with a dental nurse who, a court was told, poisoned her boss’s coffee with mercury used for fillings after she received a disciplinary.

Ravinder Kaur, 35, working at the Shams Moopen Dental Practice in Shefford, Bedfordshire, allegedly spiked Practice Manager Laura Knowles’ drink after she received a disciplinary for leaving a patient in the dental chair as she went on her lunch break. In that case, the prosecution alleges that “Ms Kaur, acting out of spite or revenge, took a capsule or a number of capsules of mercury, and tipped it into a mug and handed the cup of coffee to Ms Knowles to drink.

Whilst this behaviour may sound extreme, we are aware of employees reacting aggressively to disciplinaries: one employee threatened to “go postal”, another said he would drive his car packed full of explosives onto his employer’s premises. A client’s manager suspected an aggrieved employee for vandalising his car, whilst another was sure that a £1million pound deal almost collapsed because of information leaked by a spiteful employee dismissed for gross misconduct.

Whilst such reactions will be few and far between, a more likely consequence is that the aggrieved employee diverts attention away from them and makes allegations of whistle blowing or discrimination and pursues a claim in the Employment Tribunal.
Employers can reduce the risk of adverse consequences by having a well-drafted disciplinary policy in place, which reflects the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures (the “ACAS Code”), and ensuring that this process is followed consistently. Whilst not mandatory, the ACAS Code should be followed by employers. The ACAS Code recommends that employers deal with disciplinary action in the following way:

  • Issues should be raised and dealt with promptly, and any meetings, decisions or confirmation of those decisions should not be unreasonably delayed; 
  • Actions taken in relation to the disciplinary process should be consistent;
  • Necessary investigations to establish the facts of a case should be carried out;
  • Employees should be informed of the basis of the problem and given an opportunity to put forward their case in response, before any decisions are made;
  • Employees should be allowed to be accompanied by fellow worker or a trade union representative at any formal disciplinary meeting; and
  • Employees should be allowed to appeal against any formal decision made.

Our other “top tips” are listed below:

  • Make sure that the allegations are set out clearly in writing, with evidence provided in advance of the formal hearing. Employees who feel that an issue has been sprung on them, or which is spurious, are more likely to react aggressively.
  • Ensure that the tone of the meeting is non-accusatory and friendly. Remember that you have called the meeting to hear the employee’s side of events and not just to accuse them. Tell the employee that no decision has been made, and it is important that the employee co-operates so that the correct decision is reached.
  • Make sure the employee feels that they are kept up to speed with developments in the process, and they know when they can expect to receive a decision. These dates should be as soon as possible after the meeting.
  • If the outcome of the meeting is a disciplinary action, ensure that reason for taking action is clear and unambiguous.
  • Remember that where formal action is required, this action must be reasonable and justified.
  • If there is a clear and justifiable reason to believe that an employee will damage the employer or colleagues following an adverse decision, consider seeking an injunction to restrain the employee’s activities.

What not to do:

  • Do not indicate that the decision has already been made.
  • Do not covertly monitor the employee by “spying” on them, unless necessary and justifiable. Investigations should be transparent.
  • Do not just suspend the employee unless there are grounds for believing that the employee’s presence at work could result in damage to the employer or colleagues, or it will affect the employer’s ability to carry out a reasonable investigation.

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