Unfortunately, in most businesses the word "discipline" carries negative connotations, with most employees and managers instantly associating it with misbehaviour, misconduct and mistakes. This can easily lead employees to think that a disciplinary procedure is only there to punish and dismiss them.
While there's no denying that having a formal process in place protects your business in the event that misconduct action has to be taken against an employee, but establishing a Disciplinary Policy doesn’t have to be done in a negative light.
Discipline [noun] - 'the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour'
Disciplinary procedures should be used to ensure that your employees are aware of the business rules and the performance standards that are expected from everyone in the company.
Publishing these rules, standards and procedures in a written Disciplinary Policy is the first step in ensuring this message is communicated clearly.
Employer legal obligations on disciplinary.
First things first, all employers need to provide a new member of staff with a 'written statement of employment particulars' within the first two months of their employment.
Often this is covered off by a Contract of Employment signed and agreed before the employee starts, but it doesn't have to be. It can also be a more simpler statement detailing the job description, hours of work, holiday entitlement, salary etc.
However, regardless what document is provided to the employee, it needs to detail the disciplinary process or at the very least where it can be found.
The Disciplinary Procedure or Policy itself should follow the Acas Code of Practice which sets out criteria for a reasonable process that both employees and employers should follow. Much of this will be commonsense such as allowing an employee to be accompanied, providing minutes of meetings and giving the right to appeal any decision.
If an employer's procedure doesn't comply with the Acas Code of Practice (or a procedure isn't followed at all) they could be ordered to pay additional compensation to an employee should an employment tribunal ever need to become involved.
Advantages of a disciplinary policy.
Secondly business owners and HR need to present a company disciplinary procedure as a positive tool for effective performance management.
When implemented correctly, the policy's primary function should be as a way of adjusting employee behaviour to aid performance and improve employee alignment with the business goals. Informal discussions and coaching needs to be the first step and at the forefront of the policy, clearly emphasised over a last resort of using sanctions and penalties.
Writing a disciplinary procedure
Hopefully you're convinced of the merits of implementing a disciplinary policy and procedure in your business; and if you already have one in place, the benefit of regularly reviewing it to ensure it covers both your employer obligations/protections as well as focusing on performance improvement.
But if you are in any doubt of what your policy should cover, then seeking legal advice on your disciplinary procedures should be your next step.
If a disciplinary policy is written correctly, communicated clearly and implemented effectively, your business will greatly reduce the risk of employment law issues, and most importantly, create a transparent working environment for your team to thrive in.