A disciplinary procedure is a formal and structured way of dealing with an employee’s conduct or behaviour that falls short of what is expected of them. It outlines a clear process for addressing any issues and aims to ensure that employees are treated fairly and consistently. The purpose of disciplinary procedures is to maintain a positive and productive working environment by setting expectations for behaviour and addressing any issues that may arise.

What does a disciplinary procedure involve?

The disciplinary procedures describe the steps companies take when an employee has failed to meet performance objectives or when they have breached company policies or procedures. This may include issues such as:

  1. Absenteeism or tardiness
  2. Lack of productivity or commitment to work
  3. Breach of health and safety regulations
  4. Harassment, discrimination or bullying
  5. Theft, fraud or other criminal activities
  6. Misuse of company equipment or resources
  7. Substance abuse or addiction
  8. Refusal to comply with reasonable instructions
  9. Conflict or disputes with colleagues or management.

Conflicts or disputes are one of the most common issues, as it is something about 85% of employees will experience. A disciplinary procedure should only be implemented after attempts to resolve the problem through informal means, such as conversations or training, have failed. The procedure should be clearly defined in company policies or employment contracts and should be fair, consistent and transparent. The contract should explain when a disciplinary procedure will follow and what the company standards are.

Disciplinary procedures typically involve a series of steps that range from warnings to more serious actions like an investigation. If the employee continues to breach company policies or fails to improve their performance, further disciplinary action may be necessary. This may include a final warning or dismissal, depending on the circumstances.

All employees must be aware of company policies and procedures and the consequences of breaching them. This can be achieved through regular training and communication, which can help to prevent issues from arising and ensure a positive and productive working environment.

The steps of a disciplinary procedure

A disciplinary procedure needs to be carried out properly to ensure that it abides by laws and regulations as well as company policies. This will ensure that everyone is treated fairly and employees do not feel like steps have been skipped or not given enough importance. The main steps are:

  • Conversation with the employee
  • Investigation
  • Disciplinary meeting
  • Taking action
  • Documentation
  • Follow-up
  • Employees may have the right to appeal

Conversation with the employee

The first step of the disciplinary procedure is having a conversation with the employee(s) involved. During this conversation, it is essential to provide clear details and facts in an informative and sensitive way.

This initial conversation aims to discuss what led to the disciplinary process. Providing specific examples and outlining how the employee has failed to meet the expectations set out in their role is important for highlighting what went wrong. At the same time, it is vital to approach the conversation with respect and keep an open mind, recognising that this is likely a difficult situation for the employee.

In addition to outlining the problem, the company should be clear and specific about the potential consequences, as this will help the employee to understand the severity of the situation.

Throughout the conversation, managers should maintain a professional and calm tone of voice. This means avoiding any language or actions that could be seen as threatening, aggressive or overly emotional. Instead, the focus should be on providing as much information as possible and ensuring that the employee understands why the conversation is happening and allowing them to open up to get to the root cause of the issue.

At the end of the conversation, remember to document what has been discussed, including any agreements or action points. This will ensure that all parties are clear on the next steps and that there is a record of the conversation that can be referred to if necessary.


The investigation step of the disciplinary procedure involves gathering all relevant information, facts and evidence concerning the alleged misconduct or violation of policies and regulations. During the investigation, it is crucial to maintain an impartial approach to ensure that data is collected objectively. This may involve interviewing witnesses, reviewing records and documentation or collecting physical evidence.

Any failure to conduct a thorough investigation may jeopardise the integrity of the entire disciplinary process and expose the employer to legal or reputational risks.

Furthermore, it is important to ensure that the employee under investigation is fully aware of the investigation process, including knowing their rights and responsibilities and that they are given proper opportunities to present their side of the story and respond to any evidence presented against them.

disciplinary procedure

Disciplinary meeting

As part of the disciplinary procedure steps, a disciplinary meeting is necessary. The disciplinary meeting is an opportunity for the employer or HR or manager to discuss the concerns that they have, as well as for the employee to respond and provide their account of the situation.

The meeting should be arranged in advance, allowing the employee enough time to prepare and gather any relevant information. The employee must be informed of the allegations against them and how they could impact them, including the range of disciplinary actions that may be taken.

The employer or HR representative should explain the reasons for the meeting and provide evidence, where applicable, to support their position. The employee must be given the opportunity to respond and provide any mitigating circumstances that may be relevant.

All parties should take turns and speak without interruption. Cutting off one another, even if a party disagrees, can create a hostile conversation rather than a productive one. If the employee is unable to attend the meeting, then an alternate time should be offered.

Following the meeting, the organisation will make a decision regarding the appropriate disciplinary action, taking into consideration all of the information provided during the meeting. The employee will be informed of the decision and any appeals that may be available to them.

Taking action

The company should take action after the assessment of all the evidence and the weighing of the employee’s responses and reasoning. Is the employee experiencing something temporary or is this a permanent situation? Are there any solutions that can be provided outside the workplace? The outcome must be proportionate to the severity of the conduct or performance issue and must be reasonable.

To reach an outcome, there are some factors that must be considered during the disciplinary procedure, including the employee’s past performance, their length of service, the impact on the business, the employee’s level of responsibility and any apology or evidence of remorse. The managers must ensure that any actions taken are consistent with the organisation’s disciplinary policy and that there is no discrimination or bias in the decision-making process.

Once a decision has been made regarding the outcome, this must be communicated to the employee in writing. The employee has the right to appeal any disciplinary or dismissal decision that is made against them.


In a disciplinary procedure, documentation is necessary for every step to ensure transparency and accountability throughout the process. This involves keeping detailed and accurate records of all conversations, warnings and actions taken during the process.

These documents serve as a permanent record of the steps taken to address any identified misconduct and can also be used to track progress and ensure consistency in handling similar situations in the future.

Documentation needs to be thorough, objective and precise and stored securely and confidentially. Our customers store their disciplinary procedure files in Polonious as they are certain that everything will be kept safe for as long as it is required. It also ensures that all parties involved have access to accurate information and that there is a clear record of the decision-making process. Another benefit of documenting is that it protects the organisation in the case of any legal challenges.

Follow up

If an employee fails to improve based on the feedback they received after a verbal or written warning, the next step in the disciplinary procedure is typically a follow-up meeting.

During the follow-up meeting, the employee should be given the opportunity to explain if there is any possibility of willingness to change the circumstances that led to poor conduct. Is it in the control of the employee or is it something more serious? Just because an employee is willing to improve does not mean they have the resources or ability to do so.

During the meeting, the employer should consider what the outcome of the disciplinary actions were on the individual. Is there a slight improvement? If yes, the employer may be able to wait for another follow-up meeting to make a decision. If not, the manager should discuss with the employee what their next steps will be.

Employees may have the right to appeal

Following disciplinary action, employees may have the right to appeal the decision made against them, seeking a review of the case for possible errors or inaccuracies. If that is the case, employers should not deny the employee(s) the right to appeal.

The right to appeal offers employees the opportunity to present their case and allows them to challenge any decision they believe to be unjust or inappropriate. Depending on the severity of the disciplinary action, employees may also be entitled to seek legal representation or bring another individual to the appeal hearing.

The appeal process typically involves a panel or committee independent of the original decision-makers, who will review the case and determine whether the original decision was valid, based on the evidence presented. The decision of the appeal panel is final and binding and may result in either an upheld decision, a softer outcome or a change to the initial decision. After their decision is recorded in writing, the employee does not have a right to appeal again. To make a proper decision, another investigation may be needed.

The appeal process must be conducted promptly and efficiently to avoid prolonged uncertainty and anxiety for the employee. Failure to provide a reasonable response to an appeal or a failure to conduct a fair appeal hearing, may result in the employee taking legal action against the employer, leading to further complications and potential financial implications.

Important to note

Organisations need to have a clear disciplinary procedure to protect both the employee and the employer. This ensures that employees understand what is expected of them and the consequences that could follow. It also helps to ensure that any disciplinary action taken is reasonable and consistent, reducing the risk of legal action and maintaining a positive employer-employee relationship. All parties involved in the process must be treated with respect and the outcome must be based on facts and evidence rather than subjective opinions. This means that the disciplinary procedure must be fair and stay free of bias.

Polonious offers its customers a safe place to store their documents during the disciplinary procedure process. We assist them by making their case management more efficient by providing them with automatic case updates and reminding them of follow-up meetings. As we are ISO 27001 and ISO 9001 certified, our customers know that all information is kept confidential for as long as it is needed. If you are looking for a secure case management system that can minimise your costs and time spent, reach out!