No one looks forward to a disciplinary hearing, so as an employer it's important you get it right first time.
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If you manage staff, it’s likely that at some point in your career you’ll be faced with carrying out a disciplinary investigation.
A disciplinary investigation isn’t the same as a disciplinary hearing. The investigation is simply a fact-finding mission which will help you decide if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a full disciplinary hearing.
This means it’s vital you conduct any investigation in a fair and proper manner, both to reassure your staff member that they’re being dealt with fairly and to avoid leaving yourself and your business exposed to legal proceedings by your employee.
1. Determine the seriousness of the violation
Clearly a disciplinary for persistent lateness will differ from one involving theft or workplace violence. Similarly some investigations can be dealt with informally by a supervisor or line manager, whilst others will involve multiple witnesses, IT investigations and HR.
2. Appoint an investigating officer
This can be the employee’s line manager, a HR representative or a more senior member of staff. This is an important role – even if the employee’s misconduct is beyond doubt, it’s important that the facts are investigated properly.
The investigator should be fair, objective and in no way connected in the investigation. They’ll be tasked with gathering the facts of the case, looking for evidence that supports the allegation and reaching a conclusion on what did – or didn’t – happen.
3. Maintain confidentiality
It may sound obvious, but it’s important that any investigation is kept confidential. Even if it’s widely known that an investigation is taking place, it’s imperative that confidentiality is maintained. This will ensure that the process remains transparent, avoids damaging staff morale and puts a stop to unnecessary office gossip.
4. Consider suspension
If the charges are serious enough, you may wish to consider suspending the employee on full pay whilst investigations are carried out. It’s important that any suspension is kept under continuous review, with the employee allowed to return to work immediately if suspension is no longer necessary.
If suspension is too extreme, you could consider moving the employee on a temporary basis whilst investigations are carried out – to a new role, department or office location. You should only transfer an employee if they’re being moved to a role of equal status.
5. Keep detailed notes
Following investigations, you’ll need to produce a report on your findings so record everything that is relevant – times, places and the people involved. During the interviews, you can take your own notes or arrange for a note-taker to be present during the meeting.
6. Arrange interviews with the employee
It’s vital you give the employee under investigation the opportunity to establish their version of events. Although there isn’t a statutory right for them to be accompanied, you may want to consider allowing the employee to bring someone, such as a colleague or trade union rep, into the meeting with them.
You should also interview anyone who may have witnessed, or have information about, the employees misconduct,
7. Review the investigating officer’s report
The investigating officer will be responsible for collating findings and evidence and making recommendations. Once the report is complete you will need to review the recommendations and decide on next steps. If you’re unsure about what action you can take, you should speak to an employment lawyer for guidance and advice.
If you’re unable to prove the employee’s misconduct, you must allow them to return to work. However if you decide that there is a disciplinary case for the employee to answer, you can proceed to a disciplinary hearing.