Every company should have a disciplinary procedure they will need to follow when misconduct or non-compliance has occurred. It could be an employee who refuses to come to work on time even after many conversations have taken place, an employee who has sexually harassed another employee, a staff member who has committed fraud and more situations where a disciplinary process is necessary. 

However, as an employer, you are responsible for carrying out a fair disciplinary process and, ideally, not making any mistakes. Even if the companies are in the right, an unfair disciplinary procedure can land them in trouble. The employer has to have an open mind when working on the consequences for an employee and figure out whether all the right steps have been followed. 

Disciplinary mistakes to avoid 

When carrying out a disciplinary procedure, it might be clear what the outcome is. However, focusing on the outcome may cause employers to get tunnel vision and rather than carry out a fair process, they are trying to get to the end of the procedure. This has many flaws and can cause issues for the organisation, including monetary and reputational. Disciplinary procedures can be hard. Employers or managers need to make hard decisions such as suspending an employee or even terminating them. What mistakes could you be making without realising it? 

1. Not documenting everything 

2. Making assumptions 

3. Putting the employee in an uncomfortable situation 

4. Not giving fair warnings 

5. Overreacting or not reacting appropriately

6. Failing to follow the policies and the law 

7. Poorly communicating the decision 

8. Not being consistent

1. Not documenting everything 

Documenting everything is an essential part of any process, whether there is an investigation or a disciplinary procedure. If the company doesn’t document everything correctly, they might miss important information such as evidence or facts related to the case. Every witness statement, notes of disciplinary meetings or warnings should be written out so the company has a history of the steps it took during this procedure as well as before it. Failing to document everything could result in the employee making a case for an unfair dismissal.

2. Making assumptions 

It is necessary that all decisions made during the disciplinary procedure are based on facts rather than emotions or assumptions. Making assumptions can have many negative consequences for the company as rather than listening to what the employee has to say, they are developing their own story of what exactly happened. The company may jump to conclusions based on what the complainant has submitted without allowing the accused to provide any explanation which ultimately will lead to an unfair investigation, as the company has already decided what has happened. 

Regardless of what an employer assumes happened, a thorough investigation needs to be carried out to ensure that all steps of a disciplinary procedure are correctly followed.

3. Putting the employee in an unreasonably uncomfortable situation 

A disciplinary procedure can be a very hard time for an employee. Employees should not try to make this situation more uncomfortable. Details of the disciplinary procedures should not be discussed in public and during hearings, employees should be allowed to have someone accompany them. It could be a work colleague, a union representative, a friend or even a family member. The support person will ensure the employee is treated fairly as well as ensure that they’re not put into an uncomfortable situation. 

On this note, another mistake that a company might make is to not inform the employee of their right to have this support person with them during the hearings. This can vary from country to country. 

4. Not giving fair warnings 

When starting a disciplinary process sometimes employers may not fully explain to the employee what the possible consequences are. It is necessary to inform the employee of what the possible outcomes are of the investigation as well as the disciplinary action. This will mean that if termination of employment is the final decision then the employee is not shocked or less surprised. They were informed that this could be a possible consequence and they were not blindsided. 

Sharing with the employee the possible outcomes of the disciplinary procedure can also convey to them the seriousness of the situation. If an employee is not appropriately informed of the consequences they are facing they might not take the process as seriously as they should. 

If the disciplinary process has to do with performance, then a lack of fair warnings is another mistake that an employer can make. It’s not enough to say you didn’t do your job right, the employer needs to show evidence that they took the right steps to help the employee improve their performance or warn the employee of their poor performance. Jumping directly into disciplinary action can lead to grounds for unfair dismissal. 

5. Overreacting or underreacting

Overreacting is usually the result of a personal agenda against the  employee or a poor financial situation. Underreacting shows that the company is not taking the issue seriously. Both of these actions can impact how the rest of the employees view the company. Employees don’t want to see a company take severe action over an employee being late by five minutes once. At the same time, employees don’t want to see the company dismissing harassment or bullying allegations made against a colleague without an investigation. 

In some situations, a verbal warning may be enough while in others it’s barely anything. When a company is dealing with misconduct, it needs to look at all the facts of the case and decide what is the best way to react to ensure that it is constructing an appropriate response.


6. Failing to follow the policies and the law 

Company policies are developed with the goal to ensure a consistent and appropriate response when misconduct or issues within the company arise. Company policies and laws need to be complied with, at every step of the way. While failing to follow the law may lead to harsher consequences, failure to comply with company policies can result in retaliation, legal issues and higher expenses for the company. 

The individuals who carry out disciplinary procedures need to be aware of the policies and laws that apply to the actions they are taking. They need to know the consequences of their actions and what the right steps are. Policies and laws make the disciplinary process easier, in the sense that managers and employees won’t need to make up things on the spot. They act as a guide and show them what they need to do next without them having to guess.

7. Poorly communicating the decision 

When an investigation is finalised, the company may fail to explain to the employee how and why they have reached this outcome. They could fail to explain what steps they took leading up to the disciplinary procedure and why they’re undertaking these measures. For example, if the decision is to demote the employee, they need to provide them with a good enough reason for taking the title and pay away. At this stage, the employee should also have the right to appeal the decision that was made. Not allowing an employee to appeal or not listening to an employee’s appeal is another example of an unfair disciplinary process.

Part of communicating the decision also involves showing the employee what evidence helped them come to this conclusion. For example, if the employee is being disciplined for bad performance, the employer needs to show them evidence of bad performance such as them falling short of their goals regularly or not hitting KPIs.

8. Not being consistent 

Lastly, an unfair disciplinary process could be the result of an inconsistent response. Let’s take employee A and employee B. Employee is accused of harassing a colleague. A thorough investigation is carried out for employee A and the disciplinary response is lenient. For the same allegations, employee B gets a less detailed investigation and is suspended without pay. The company doesn’t put much effort into the investigation, and believes the allegations of the complainant without giving employee B a fair chance to respond. 

This shows an inconsistent response by the company as two similar situations were treated differently. Depending on why there was the case, this could spark allegations of discrimination against the company. The company needs to respond similarly to the situations to avoid preferential treatment. This will prevent resentment, alienation, retaliation, negative sentiments from the employee and their team, and help foster a more inclusive environment. 

Are you looking to carry out a fair investigation? 

A fair investigation brings you one step closer to a fair disciplinary process. Choosing the right team is important for ensuring that you get the right outcomes and everything remains confidential during the process of the investigation. 

Polonious is trusted by many organisations worldwide to help investigators carry out an efficient, fair and effective investigation. We assist our clients with cutting costs and saving time by streamlining workflows and automating manual processes. Our system ensures that there are fewer mistakes made during the investigation to prevent further mistakes from being made during the disciplinary process. Do you want to know how we can help you? 

Reach out and book a demo with us!