Help! How do I discipline a member of my staff?

Oh no! If you’re having to take disciplinary action against one of your employees, I totally feel for you.

It isn’t nice ☹ And it can eat up heaps of time too ⏰

But, as a small business owner, it comes with the job I’m afraid! It also shows that you don’t tolerate poor performance or bad behaviours 💪 After all, that’s what disciplinary action is designed to do. Address those two areas.

It’s really important you handle disciplinaries in the right way though. Because if you don’t, your employee could take you to an employment tribunal and that could result in you having to fork out for compensation.

So, read my blog to get some hints and tips on dealing with disciplinaries the right way ⚠ But, please be warned, every disciplinary case is different and there can be a myriad of different outcomes.


As a business owner, you might be thinking, ‘Am I taking things too far?’ or ‘Is this REALLY a reason to discipline somebody?’ These are perfectly normal thoughts to have.

But the reality is, if you’ve done all you can to warn the employee that their performance or behaviour isn’t acceptable, and you’ve given them time and help to sort things out, then you’re well in your rights to discipline them!

According to Personnel Today, these are the top 11 most common issues raised at a disciplinary hearing:

⚠General misconduct         
⚠Misuse of email, internet or social media                       
⚠Poor performance           
⚠Bullying and harassment                                       
⚠Substance misuse
⚠Poor timekeeping            
⚠Theft or fraud                                                       
⚠Unauthorised absence     
⚠Health and safety


When it comes to taking disciplinary action against your employee, there are some guiding principles to stick by, that should help the whole process run more smoothly, and keep you out of trouble.

⏱ Firstly, try to sort things out informally before taking disciplinary action

📊 Stick to the facts, don’t exaggerate or use hearsay information

✏ Always keep a record of what’s been said, and when it was said

📧 Make sure you communicate all decisions in writing and keep your employee informed every step of the way

😇 Be super-fair and reasonable throughout the process, so you can demonstrate that your employee has had an opportunity to turn things around

📑 Stick to your HR policies if you have them. These should reflect the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary procedures

🗣 Get advice from a HR pro before doing anything rash

No HR policies? No problem. If you don’t have any HR policies in place today, then you really need to get this sorted ASAP! You can download my full suite of HR Policies, neatly combined into one document called EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK TEMPLATE? You'll get instant access to over 30 HR policies that you can customise for your own workplace 👌


Ask yourself if you’ve explored all INFORMAL actions before going down the disciplinary route. You may choose to do this in your1-2-1 sessions with your employee.

For example, you might be frustrated that your employee keeps turning up late to client meetings 😱

Have you asked them why this happens? Have you made it clear that it’s not acceptable, and why? Have you told them that you don’t expect it to happen again? Have you asked them if there’s anything you can do to help them to be more punctual? Have you given them enough time to improve? Have you warned them if that if they don’t sort this out, you’ll have to go down the disciplinary route?


If you’re seeing no improvement, and you want to start the disciplinary ball rolling, you must inform your employee of this in writing.

In this piece of communication, you need to say what the problem is, and why it’s an issue. Provide a re-cap of the informal steps you’ve already taken. Then, invite them to a disciplinary hearing meeting – giving them sufficient notice to attend at a venue they can easily reach. Also, remind them that they’re allowed to bring somebody with them, like a fellow colleague, or a union rep.

Don’t use emotive language or hyperbole to emphasise your point. For example, words like, “you always” or “you never” just tend to fan the flames 🔥 Instead, be 100% factual.


Leading up to any disciplinary procedures, you need to gather the facts. In other words, a record of what happened and when. And also, what other people have said to you or others. This should not only cover your employee’s failings, it should also demonstrate how you’ve tried to sort things out informally.

Although it can be an emotive experience for both parties, sticking to facts can really take the heat out of the situation. For example, if you say, “I can never trust you to be on time!” that can arouse an emotional response. It’s better to say, “You were over 20 minutes late to three meetings with Asda on the 7th, 19th, and 25th of April.” They’re the facts of the matter and cannot be disputed!


A disciplinary hearing exists to allow both parties to get their version of events across – using fact-based evidence.

If your employee has brought along a companion, they’re allowed to talk to one another, but the companion shouldn’t be answering your questions.

Listen carefully, because based on what your employee says, you’ll then need to decide what to do next. This should be done outside of the hearing.


The most important thing to do, is come to a decision – and quickly. Then, let your employee know in writing.

These are the options available to you:

😐 Don’t take any action, agree to park the matter, and crack on

✍Give your employee a written warning, which stays on their employee file for a set period of time, and tells them that further action will be taken if things don’t improve

📧Issue a final warning with the possibility of a dismissal if nothing changes

👋Dismiss them. However, I would seek HR guidance on this before you do so


You can download my DISCIPLINARY TOOLKIT that contains every policy, form, guide, and letter template – you’ll ever need – to handle disciplinaries the right way 👌

You can customise it so it carries your company branding. Plus, you can re-use it again if the situation arises with other employees.


😒 Nobody enjoys disciplining their employees. But, it’s a necessary evil to address poor performance or bad behaviours

⚠ There are many reasons for disciplining an employee. From poor timekeeping to health and safety breaches

👍 The important thing, is to stick to some guiding principles. Like documenting everything and remaining reasonable and fair at all times

😐 Before doing anything formal, make sure you’ve tried to resolve things informally first

✏ When you’ve exhausted that avenue, you must tell your employee – in writing – that you’re going down the formal route

📊 Sticking to facts are the key to keeping emotions in check

👂 A disciplinary hearing is an opportunity for you both to get your side of the story across, so listen carefully as it’s you who will be making the next move

🤔 At the end of the day, the decision on what to do next is yours, but make sure you’ve diligently followed proper processes to keep you out of an employment tribunal!

Mandy Hamerla

Mandy Hamerla​

Virtual HR Director & Leadership Mentor. I create game-changing HR & Hiring Strategies for ambitious small businesses in the UK and support you to lead your team with confidence. Check out my shop to download HR Templates & Contracts designed to make life easier.