How to manage a disciplinary for a staff member

how to manage a disciplinary

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.

Reasons to discipline a member of staff

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 within 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
⚠ Violence
⚠ Poor performance
⚠ Bullying and harassment
⚠ Substance misuse
⚠ Poor timekeeping
⚠ Theft or fraud
⚠ Discrimination
⚠ Unauthorised absence
⚠ Health and safety

Before you start the formal disciplinary process

Ask yourself if you’ve explored all INFORMAL actions before going down the disciplinary route. You may choose to do this in your 1-2-1 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 this is unacceptable behaviour?
  • 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 that if they don’t sort this out, you’ll have to go down the disciplinary route?
  • Is this gross misconduct (a very serious matter)
  • Is bad behaviour tolerated within your company culture

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 recap 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.

How to conduct a disciplinary hearing

A disciplinary hearing exists to allow both parties to get their version of events across – using fact-based evidence. You must follow the employment law, to avoid costly mistakes or employment tribunal like unfair dismissal. Here's the steps to follow

Step 1. Invite them to a disciplinary hearing

The first step is to send the formal invite letter. This should include:

  • The alleged misconduct or performance issue
  • The date, time and location of the hearing
  • The employee's right to be accompanied to the hearing by a work colleague to trade union representative
  • The possible outcomes e.g. a written warning or dismissal

Under discrimination law, you must make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. This might mean allowing someone else to attend, for example a support worker. This could also be someone with knowledge of the disability and its effects.

Step 2. Hold the disciplinary hearing

The hearing is the chance for both the employer and the employee to state their case. The employer, employee and employee’s companion should make every effort to attend.

You should explain the employee's alleged misconduct or performance issue and go through the evidence.

The employee must be allowed to put forward their side of the story. They can also provide evidence such as documents or witnesses for you to speak to.

At the end of the hearing, you should take some time to consider the case carefully before making a decision and you should tell the employee what happens next and give a timeframe

If the employee is absent or off sick for the disciplinary hearing, the employer should pause the disciplinary procedure until they return to work.

Step 3: Decide on the outcome

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 verbal or first 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.

Disciplinary Toolkit | Modern HR


Gathering the facts is a critical part of the disciplinary process. In other words, having 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!


📊 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.

📑 Follow 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.

Want a timesaving shortcut to get started?

You can download my DISCIPLINARY TOOLKIT that contains every policy, form, guide, and letter template – you’ll ever need – to handle any type of disciplinary 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.


  • Book a free consultation with Mandy here, to learn more about us working together.

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