SMEs up to speed on discipline rules

A quarter of employers have faced an employment tribunal claim over disciplining an employee in the past two years, while one in five has faced a claim after an employee grievance, according to a survey by IRS Employment Review.

Topping the list of cause for disciplinary action were poor attendance, poor performance, problems with the employee’s conduct or behaviour, and bad timekeeping. Conversely, employees were most likely to take a grievance over bad relationships with their manager or a colleague.

From October 2004 new rules set out a three-stage disciplinary and grievance process: putting it in writing; a meeting to discuss; and the opportunity to appeal. Click here for more details on this.

These rules aimed to prevent employees going to an employment tribunal unless they had first taken their claim through their organisation’s internal processes. The survey found that employers had taken steps to brush up their procedures to comply with the law.

Nearly all employers (98%) had written disciplinary and grievance procedures. Half (50%) had changed to their grievance procedure, and nearly half (47%) had changed their disciplinary procedure, as a result of the statutory changes.

When it comes to getting advice on grievance and disciplinary procedures, over half those surveyed consulted with external lawyers, while 40% went to Acas, with just 16% asking trade unions and 12% seeking the wisdom of outside consultants. Fewer than one in ten did not take outside advice.

‘Employers have put an enormous amount of work into updating their disciplinary and grievance procedures over the past year,’ observes Mark Crail, managing editor of the review. ‘As a result of the legal changes introduced last October, most saw this as a priority, while half have made changes to their policies. Generally, they are now more confident that their procedures are fair and reliable.

‘It is essential that managers know when and how to implement the policies. Employers must recognise that a certain level of expertise needs to be developed in-house in this area; early intervention will help prevent disciplinary and grievance matters from escalating,’ he concludes.

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