A client recently asked me to help with a disciplinary situation. The facts of the case were undisputed: an employee hadn’t turned up for work until nearly 11.00 am without contacting the company as required, and as it wasn’t the first time he’d been late for work my client felt that formal disciplinary action was warranted. However, he’d never conducted a disciplinary meeting before and was a bit concerned about it, so I went along to help and make sure he did it right. I was pleased that he recognised the importance of getting the procedures right and asked for help, rather than jumping in with both feet and potentially making a mess of things.
Not every employer is so conscious of the need to do things properly. Faced with an allegation of theft, for example, many employers will take a “knee jerk” approach and dismiss summarily without conducting a thorough enough investigation.
In many disciplinary situations, there are conflicting accounts of what happened. In these cases it comes down to a judgment call on the part of the employer. Before making that judgment, all the facts need to be thorough examined; this may involve the taking of witness statements and it should always include the consideration of any objective evidence that may exist.
If an employer relies on the testimony of just one witness and does not seek to corroborate that evidence by interviewing other people who may have been present, or checking CCTV footage, computer records etc., then a claim for Unfair Dismissal is very likely to ensue. Family Mediation Waltham Cross
Employers must undertake a reasonable investigation in order to justify taking action against an employee, and the more serious the allegation, the more thorough the investigation should be.
The test of “reasonableness” in a tribunal is not as rigorous as it is in a criminal court – you don’t have to prove your case “beyond all reasonable doubt” – but there is still an expectation that you will conduct a thorough investigation of the facts before deciding to take action. All key witnesses should be interviewed and statements taken, and if you have CCTV or other surveillance evidence, you need to refer to it. Then you should weigh up the evidence and come to a balanced judgment.
In addition to a reasonable investigation, an employer also needs to undertake a fair procedure, involving allowing the employee to be accompanied at the disciplinary meeting, allowing him/her to challenge the testimony of others and state his/her case, and allowing an appeal against the disciplinary sanction. Falling down on either requirement will often lead straight to the tribunal door.
Knee-jerk reactions or jumping to conclusions is never a good idea in the employment arena.