Disciplinary

Introduction

The ACAS Code of Practice has been used as a guide when drawing up this procedure. The code sets out the basic requirements of fairness that will be appropriate in most cases and provides guidance on the expected standard of reasonable behaviour in organisations.

This Disciplinary procedure forms part of the Terms and Conditions of contracts of employment.

The University is committee to dealing with disciplinary matters fairly and it has an expectation that employees will do the same.

The University and employees should:

  • Raise and deal with issues promptly and should not unreasonably delay meetings, decisions or confirmation of those decisions;
  • Act consistently.

The University will ensure that:

Prior to the formal procedure being instigated managers will set and regularly communicate clear expectations and address concerns around behaviour and conduct immediately to ‘nip things in the bud’ at an early stage.

These communications will be part of day to day management expectations and issues will be dealt with immediately and informally.

In recognising potential risks associated with the application of this procedure managers will consider the effects on the people concerned (Appendix D (PDF)- notes on Management of Risk).

Managers will:

  • Recognise the need to manage issues as they arise in the spirit of this procedure to avoid the need for more formal processes being instigated;
  • Inform employees of the basis of the problems and give them the opportunity to put their case should they wish to do so, before any decision is made;
  • Carry out necessary investigations to establish the facts of the case;
  • Invite employees to be accompanied to any disciplinary meetings by a trade union representative or work colleague;
  • Allow employees to appeal against any formal decisions taken at the hearing stage.

The University’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which enables employees to access confidential support services, provides the opportunity for employees to consider how they can best approach a problem or concern with a view to reaching a resolution. HR can advise on the services available and information is also available on the HR web site.

1. Scope of the procedure

1.1 This procedure is designed to be used when it is believed that an employee may have been negligent in duties, failed to comply with a reasonable instruction, or be  suspected of  misconduct, serious misconduct or gross misconduct;

All steps must be carried out as soon as possible and without any unreasonable delay by all parties.

Research misconduct will be considered outside the scope of this policy as such matters will be dealt with in accordance with the Procedure for the Investigation of Misconduct in Research which can be found at http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/hr/employment-information/misconduct

1.2 Potential criminal matters

If the allegation indicates that the employee may have committed a criminal offence, the Director of Human Resources must be informed immediately. He/she will consult with the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students and Staff) or in his or her absence, with a member of the University Executive Group.

2. Informal stage

2.1 The day to day supervision of employees is part of the management function and is outside the scope of the more formal procedures for dealing with potential breaches of discipline. There are likely to be fewer requirements for referring to the formal procedures if issues of concern are brought to employees’ attention at the earliest possible opportunity by their line manager. If the issue is believed to be of a minor nature, the line manager and employee should seek to resolve the matter through informal discussions, advice or support.

If a manager is in any doubt about whether an incident of misconduct should be dealt with informally, they should seek advice from HR.

2.2 The line manager should, in an informal 1 to 1 discussion, explain the basis of their concerns, provide any evidence which has come to light and give the employee a chance to respond, listening carefully to what the employee has to say. Informal discussions with employees are not formal disciplinary proceedings. These are informal one to one discussions intended to resolve issues at the lowest possible level.

2.3 Where either party feels it may assist in reaching a positive outcome to the meeting, a trade union representative or work colleague together with an HR representative can support the process.

2.4 During the course of the meeting it may become apparent that there is no evidence of misconduct or there is a misinterpretation of events.  If this is the case, the line manager will confirm that the matter is closed. No record of the meeting will be retained.

2.5 If there is evidence of minor misconduct, the line manager should discuss and agree the improvements necessary within a defined period of time in an agreed improvement plan with regular progress reviews built in. The line manager should also make it clear that any further misconduct, or failure to improve, could lead to the formal procedure being implemented. The agreed improvements, time-plan and implications of lack of improvement will be communicated to the employee in writing by the line manager as soon as possible and no later than 10 working days after the meeting.

The record of the meeting will not form part of an employee’s formal disciplinary record, but if the employee’s subsequent pattern of behaviour should lead to the formal disciplinary procedure being initiated, informal records which have been kept for management purposes may be referred to. These records will not be retained for longer than six months unless there is a valid reason to retain them for up to 12 months where there may be a reoccurring issue.

2.6 Informal discussions will be recorded by the line manager who will need to agree the record of the meeting with the employee. The line manager will give a copy to the employee and keep a copy securely in accordance with the University’s Data Protection Policy.

2.7 If during an informal discussion it becomes obvious that the matter is potentially serious and should move to a formal process the meeting will be adjourned and the formal procedure in Section 3 should be followed. The employee should be advised that the matter will be taken forward under the formal disciplinary procedure, enabling the employee to continue to exercise their right to be accompanied should they so wish.

3. Formal Disciplinary Procedure

3.1 Stage One

This stage is for dealing with minor offences which are straightforward and where facts are unlikely to be disputed.  These should be dealt with by the employee’s supervisor or line manager.

The employee will be invited to a meeting in writing by the line manager. The letter will include the details of the allegations that are to be considered, provide any documentation already gathered and relevant to the issue with the letter and outline the individual’s rights under the procedure - including the right to be accompanied by a recognised Trade Union (TU) representative or a work colleague and the right to call witnesses. The employee will normally be given 7 working days advance notice of the date of the meeting but should the employee wish to extend the period of consideration of the documents, then a maximum of 10 working days can be given.

The line manager will invite a member of HR to the meeting or discuss the matter with them to ensure consistency in the decision making process.

At the meeting the employee will be given the opportunity to respond in full to the issues raised in the letter and to provide evidence of any mitigation. Once the employee has provided their response, the manager will adjourn the meeting and make a determination.  

At this stage the outcomes can include:

  • Dismissing the matter – the employee will be advised at the meeting.  The matter is then formally closed and expunged from their employee record.
  • Arranging counselling/training - it may be appropriate to correct a situation without the need for a verbal warning. In such circumstances, training/support will be offered to rectify a situation. A review of progress will take place within a specified period of time by the line manager of the employee, normally not exceeding six months.
  • Verbal warning - where the issues of concern are substantiated a verbal warning can be issued and will remain on their employee record for a period of six months.   No other warning can be given at this stage of the procedure. The outcome will be communicated to the employee in writing within five working days.
  • The employee will have the right of appeal against a verbal warning– refer to Section 6.

3.2 Stage Two

Progression to stage two will be initiated where one of the following circumstances has occurred:

  • Stage one has not resulted in the required improvement in conduct
  • More serious or gross misconduct may have taken place (Refer to Appendix C PDF).

The Director of HR or depute will appoint a Fact Finding Officer (FFO) to establish the facts of the situation, normally within 5 working days.  In exceptional circumstances, if the FFO needs to be replaced during the investigation, the Director of HR or depute will appoint a replacement, again within 5 working days. This is a member of staff who will not be the employee’s line manager, nor have had prior involvement in the matter and would be from another department.

3.3 The Investigation

The employee will be advised in writing of the name of the FFO by HR. The letter will include the details of the allegations that are to be considered and the individual’s rights under the procedure - including the right to be accompanied by a recognised Trade Union (TU) representative or a work colleague. A copy of the letter to the employee will be sent to the employee’s line manager.

The FFO will write to the employee inviting them to attend a meeting. The letter will include details of the allegations that are to be considered and will remind the employee of their rights under the procedure. This meeting will normally be arranged no more than 10 working days after the appointment of the FFO.

At the meeting the employee will be asked to respond to the allegations. If the employee concerned wishes to remain silent when interviewed no assumptions as to their culpability will be made purely as a result of that silence. The FFO will ask questions to establish the facts and may also wish to interview other people in order to obtain further relevant information.

3.4 The FFO will consider whether further witnesses need to be interviewed and relevant documentary evidence gathered.

3.5 Where alleged misconduct is believed to have taken place by an employee who is a representative of a trade union recognised by the University no action under this procedure, other than precautionary suspension, will be taken until a full-time official of that trade union has been informed.

3.6 All interviews will normally be recorded and a copy of the transcriptions of the meetings will be provided to the employee and witnesses normally within a maximum of 5 working days of the meeting. The notes should be annotated with any changes and signed as confirmation that they are a correct record of the meeting and a copy returned to the FFO and HR within a maximum of 5 working days of receipt. If no response is received within this timeframe then notes/transcripts will be taken as accepted. When an employee chooses not to have the meeting recorded and transcribed, hand written notes will be taken. At the end of the meeting these notes will be signed by those present as a true record and will not normally be transcribed.

3.7 The FFO will inform the employee of any necessary changes to agreed timescales outlining the reasons for these changes.

3.7.1 The FFO will collect any relevant documents including written witness statements.

3.7.2 The FFO will produce a report using the template shown in Appendix F (PDF) (outlining the findings, conclusions and recommendations), normally within 10 working days of the return of the notes/transcript from the final investigation interview.

3.8 The report from the FFO, on which the HR representative will have provided advice, will be sent to the Director of HR or nominee in the first instance, who will review the report and then discuss the report with the Institute Director or Head of Professional Service Department or depute who will then take one of the following actions within 3 working days:-

3.8.1 Arrange a meeting to discuss the findings

In either of the situations in 3.7.1 and 3.7.2 above a meeting will normally be held with the individual and their representative within 5 working days (if they choose to be accompanied) with the Head of Department or depute and HR Manager or depute who will inform the employee of the outcome of the investigation. A record of the meeting will be given to the employee, normally within 3 working days.

3.8.2 Dismiss the matter

If the complaint is without foundation the employee will be advised at the meeting.  HR will inform the line manager and any witnesses that the matter has been concluded. The matter is then formally closed and expunged from their employee record.

3.8.3 Arrange advice/guidance/training

It may be appropriate to correct a situation without the need for a formal disciplinary hearing. In such circumstances where necessary, further training/guidance will be provided to rectify a situation. A review of progress will take place within a specified period of time by the line manager of the employee, normally not exceeding six months.

If the employee does not engage and accept the recommended actions, the matter may need to be referred back to Section 3.1 onwards for reconsideration.

3.8.4 Refer the case to a disciplinary hearing under the formal disciplinary procedure outlined below.

4. Stage Three

Disciplinary Hearing

4.1 The employee will receive confirmation in writing from HR that the matter will be referred to a formal disciplinary hearing (see Appendix A (PDF)) to consider the allegations. The disciplinary panel will consist as per the table in Appendix E (PDF). The procedure to be followed at the disciplinary hearing is detailed in Appendix A (PDF).

4.2 The employee will normally be given a minimum of 5 working days’ notice of the hearing; told the purpose of it, with the details of the alleged misconduct being outlined; and invited to attend together with their trade union representative  or work colleague.  Where the evidence to be considered is complex additional time may be allocated.  See guidance document for additional information in Appendix A (PDF).

4.3 The report by the FFO and any evidence they intend to rely upon will be provided to the employee at least 10 working days before the date of the hearing. The letter will include the names of any persons who are to be called to give evidence.

4.4 Any written evidence to be introduced by the employee at the hearing, together with the names of any relevant witnesses they wish to call, and their confirmed availability, should be provided to the person conducting the hearing at least three working days in advance of the date of the hearing.

If, for good cause, the employee is unable to attend the hearing, it will be rescheduled to a date normally within 5 working days of the original hearing, or exceptionally at some other mutually agreed time, unless the employee specifies in writing that their trade union representative or work colleague has agreed to present the case on their behalf. Alternatively the employee may submit a written statement of case to be considered by the panel in the course of the hearing. 

If the employee fails to attend the hearing without good cause, or fails to attend the re-arranged hearing without good cause, the matter will be considered by the panel in absentia.

5. Disciplinary outcome

5.1 If the complaint is without foundation where possible the employee will be advised at the disciplinary hearing or within 3 working days.   HR will inform the line manager and any witnesses that the matter has been concluded. The matter is then formally closed and expunged from their employee record. No record of the complaint will be kept on the employee’s files.

5.2 Where the panel has a reasonable belief that on the balance of probabilities the allegation(s) have been substantiated or substantiated in part, the following disciplinary action may be taken under this stage of the procedure.

Note:  Warnings will normally be issued within 5 working days of the hearing.

5.2.1 Formal verbal warning

For a minor offence or offences, a formal verbal warning may be issued making it clear that further misconduct may render the employee liable to further disciplinary action involving more serious consequences. The employee should be informed that this warning will be noted on his/her employee files for a period not exceeding six months. An employee who has received a formal verbal warning and whose conduct has been acceptable for the period determined shall have that warning removed from their records and shall be notified in writing that this has been done.

5.2.2 First written warning

For  more serious allegations , or the repetition of misconduct after a formal verbal warning has previously been given and remains live, a first written warning may be issued setting out the nature of the issue and informing the employee that further misconduct  may result in further disciplinary action under this procedure. The warning shall be noted in the employee’s files for a period normally not exceeding one year. All warnings shall be disregarded after acceptable conduct for the period of the warning, and the employee notified in writing of its removal from their employee files.

5.2.3 Final, or combined first and final, written warning

For a serious issue which might justify summary dismissal for gross misconduct, but where the panel conducting the hearing decides that a lesser penalty is appropriate in the circumstances, or for an offence after a first written warning has been given and is still live, a final (or combined first and final) written warning may be issued setting out the nature of the offence and informing the employee that further misconduct may render him/her liable to further action under this procedure that could result in dismissal. The warning shall be noted in the employee’s files for a period of one year.   Where the warning is issued as an alternative to dismissal the period of the warning will be two years.   The arrangements for noting the warning on the employee’s personal file and its subsequent removal after the specified period of acceptable conduct are set out in the preceding paragraph. The panel will consider any patterns of behaviour which may signal an alternative approach is required in respect of timescale that a warning should remain on the file for a maximum of two years.

5.2.4 Dismissal

For an act or acts of further misconduct, other than gross misconduct, by an employee who is under a final written warning, he/she may be liable to dismissal with notice or with pay in lieu of notice.

5.2.5 Summary Dismissal

In cases where gross misconduct is alleged and is established on the balance of probabilities, the employee may be liable to summary dismissal with immediate effect and without notice.

5.2.6 Alternative sanctions

Immediate disciplinary demotion, redeployment or suspension without pay, recovery of monies or other penalty short of dismissal, may be imposed in conjunction with a final or combined first and final written warning, as an alternative to dismissal, subject to provision for doing so being in accordance with the employee’s terms of employment, or by agreement with the employee.

6. Appeals

6.1 An employee has the right to appeal (on the grounds outlined in section 6.2 below) about any formal disciplinary action within 5 working days of receiving written notification of the disciplinary action. Details relating to the conduct of disciplinary appeal hearings and the nature of the appeal panel are in Appendices B and E. If there is an appeal, those involved in the initial disciplinary hearing decision will not take part in the making of the decision at the appeal stage. The Chair of the disciplinary panel will normally be called to present the reasons for their decision at the appeal. In his /her absence another member of the panel may depute.

6.2 The opportunity to appeal against a disciplinary decision is essential to natural justice, and appeals may be raised by employees on any number of grounds.

The decision to Appeal must be indicated in writing within the time limit above.  The employee should state the ground(s) for the appeal either at that time or at the latest within five working days of submitting their notification of appeal.

Grounds for appeal may include:

  • The employee considers that the procedures followed by the person(s) conducting the hearing were in some way defective (see table at Appendix E (PDF) for panel composition);
  • The employee considers the penalty imposed to be inappropriate or inconsistent with previous practice;
  • The employee wishes to introduce new evidence that has subsequently come to light and which, had it been known at the time of the hearing, could have affected the decision.
  • The employee believes the penalty is too harsh.

Disciplinary sanctions will take place immediately except in cases of demotion or re-deployment. If the appeal is unsuccessful the deferred disciplinary action will be imposed after the appeal hearing. Where the employee has been dismissed with notice, the appeal will normally be heard during the period covered by that period of notice.

6.3 On completion of the proceedings, the decision of the appeal panel may be announced by the Chair of the appeal panel. The decision will be confirmed in writing within 5 working days to the employee and his/her line manager by the HR representative present at the hearing. No further right of appeal will be available to the employee within the University.

7. Suspension or re-allocation of duties

It should be made clear that suspension or re-allocation of duties is not an assumption of guilt and is not considered a disciplinary sanction. All options to avoid a suspension where possible will be considered but if any of the following is relevant the matter should be referred to the Director of Human Resources or depute who will bring it to the attention of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students and Staff Services) (or in their absence another member of the University Executive) who may consider suspension or re-allocation of duties on full pay during the investigation

  • If  the presence of the employee is likely to hinder the investigation;
  • if the continued presence of the employee is thought to pose a threat to the health and safety of staff, students or other members of the University;
  • If it becomes clear during the investigation that a serious breach of discipline may have occurred, such that the continued presence of the employee might compromise either themselves or the University then either suspension or the allocation of alternative duties might be considered.

The reasons for and conditions of the suspension will be given in writing within three working days by the Director of Human Resources or depute. Any decision to suspend on a precautionary basis will be reviewed as a minimum requirement every 10 working days and on a regular basis thereafter by the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students and Staff Services) or the member of the University Executive who made the decision to suspend.  The outcome of each review will be confirmed in writing to the employee by HR.

8. Revision or Termination of this Procedure

  • This procedure will be periodically reviewed in consultation with the Trade Unions recognised by the University. The procedure will be included in the University’s Ordinances and any changes agreed by Council.

Updated: 2014

Appendicies

Appendix A (PDF)
Appendix B (PDF)
Appendix C (PDF)
Appendix D (PDF)
Appendix E (PDF)
Appendix F (PDF)