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Discipline

This guide gives advice on disciplinary processes including suspension, investigations, hearings, penalties and appeals.

Help available if you're involved in a disciplinary matter

If you're told you are going to be disciplined, read the following information and contact us on 0345 7726100 without delay. Provided you were in membership at the time of the incident, we will help you prepare your case and support you through the process.

  • If you are asked to provide a statement for a workplace investigation, follow our statement writing advice. You can call us to arrange for it to be checked before you hand it in.
  • If you are called as a witness for a disciplinary hearing read the disciplinary policy in your workplace. Your Human Resources department should also be able to give some support. If you are concerned that being a witness in the hearing could result in any action being taken against you then you should contact us. Read our advice for witnesses.
  • If you are in the UK on a visa and are facing disciplinary action, contact us for help from our Immigration Advice Service.
  • If you are considering resigning from your job during the disciplinary process, discuss your options with us before taking any action.
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Suspension

If you have been suspended please, contact us on 0345 7726100

A suspension should not imply guilt and, if you are a suspended employee, this should be on full pay. If you are an agency or bank nurse you may not be entitled to pay whilst suspended.

If you hold a second contract with another employer you are not automatically suspended from this role. However, you may need to inform your second employer that you have been suspended. The NMC Code places a professional obligation on you to inform any employers you work for if your fitness to practise is called into question.

We advise that you do not seek alternative work whilst suspended.

While you are suspended, your RCN representative can contact specified colleagues to help you prepare your case, where appropriate.

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The basic process

Your employer should have written procedures for handling disciplinary situations. It is very important that you read these.

Your employer should be fair and reasonable when conducting a disciplinary and should follow the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance. In Northern Ireland, please see the Labour Relations Agency's Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.

Your employer's policy will outline the detail, but generally the process will be as follows:

  • your employer will carry out an investigation to establish the facts
  • they'll notify you of the issue/problem
  • they'll hold a meeting with you to discuss the issue/problem (without undue delay and with enough time to enable you to prepare your case). You'll be allowed to be accompanied at this meeting, by either a fellow worker or your union representative
  • they'll decide on what action to take against you - if any - and,
  • they'll provide you with the chance to appeal their decision.

It's important to keep a record of any instances where your employer fails to follow local guidance or best practice codes. Your employer's failure to adhere to agreed policies, practices and procedures could provide you with grounds for appeal.

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The hearing

After the investigatory stage you should be told in writing whether a disciplinary hearing has been arranged.

The letter should outline:

  • the issues and possible penalties,
  • where and when the hearing will take place,
  • the names of any witnesses, and
  • your right to be accompanied

You are also entitled to all of the information and documents relating to the case, in advance of the hearing. 

Your availability

You should make every effort to attend the original hearing date. If you have a legitimate reason why you cannot attend, you can request a postponement. A legitimate reason might be that you have not been given enough notice to meet with your representative and prepare your case, or your representative is unavailable on the proposed date. The alternative date must be reasonable and within five working days of the original hearing date (beginning the day after). Working days for this purpose exclude Saturday, Sunday and public holidays.

If you are off sick and cannot attend the first hearing obtain a medical certificate or support from occupational health, where possible.

At the hearing

The hearing panel usually consists of a chairperson (senior manager), a human resource adviser and possibly a note taker. In the NHS the investigating officer may present the findings to the panel. The location should be private with no interruptions.

The hearing itself will follow this basic structure:

  • The chairperson should introduce those present and explain the purpose of the hearing.
  • Management will outline their case then listen to your defence. You can refute any allegations or statements, ask questions, present evidence and question witnesses.
  • Your representative is entitled to address the hearing panel and ask questions on your behalf. A union representative (or chosen companion) can address the hearing, challenge any inaccuracies or procedural errors, present mitigating circumstances and sum up your case. You can confer with them during the interview (somewhere private) and they can address the hearing panel, but not answer on your behalf. There is generally no legal right to be accompanied by a solicitor. Your representative is allowed to confer with you before and after the hearing.
  • You should also be given the opportunity to call relevant witnesses, ask questions and challenge or raise points about any information provided by witnesses. If you intend to question any witness or if you refute the witness statements you should notify management beforehand.
  • The panel will consider the evidence presented, the facts, any mitigating or contributory factors and whether a disciplinary penalty is justified.

After the hearing

You should be informed in writing of the hearing outcome and the grounds for the decision. You should be provided with the opportunity to agree the notes or minutes of the hearing before they are finalised.

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Possible outcomes

Your employer's policy will outline the range of penalties or sanctions that could be imposed.

Informal cautions, advice, counselling or mediation should normally precede formal warnings. Formal sanctions can range from verbal warnings to summary dismissal for serious cases. 

Details about any sanction you are given, including how long it will remain on your record, should be confirmed in writing. It should be consistent with local policy and similar cases. Time limits for any appeal must also be set out clearly.

 

Verbal warnings

A verbal warning gives you notice that your performance needs to improve or that certain behaviours/conduct need to change. Verbal warnings are usually given for minor issues like persistent lateness or absenteeism. They still form part of the disciplinary process, and are kept on file for a specified time. You may be required to sign something to say you have received the verbal warning. 
 

First written warning

 A first written warning should be kept on file and may be used as a basis for review and/or monitoring performance or conduct for a specified period. Formal warnings should set out the performance or conduct issues identified, the changes you're required to make and the time frames for that to take place.

You should be told how long the warning will remain active and the consequences of further misconduct, or failure to improve performance, within this time. It should be made clear that failure to make the required improvements could lead to a final written warning and ultimately dismissal.

In between the first and final warnings the employer can extend performance review periods for justifiable and specified reasons.

Final written warning

This is usually the last stage before demotion or dismissal. Your employer is entitled to consider dismissal if your unsatisfactory performance/conduct continues or further incidents occur.

Dismissal

A dismissal occurs when your contract is terminated by your employer. The decision to dismiss should be made by senior management and you should be informed in writing as soon as possible.

Before considering dismissal, the employer should review all aspects of your case alongside your general employment record, to decide whether the penalty is reasonable in the circumstances. You should be given the reasons for the dismissal and the date the contract will terminate, and be provided with information about your right of appeal.

If you disagree with the dismissal, you should discuss your options with your representative. You may have grounds for appeal, a grievance or tribunal claim.

Summary dismissal

Summary dismissal may occur in serious cases of gross misconduct and results in dismissal without notice.

The actions listed above could also result in NMC investigation and pose a risk to your nursing registration.

Other sanctions

Alternative disciplinary penalties can be imposed, such as transfer to another area, suspension without pay, demotion, or loss of increment (often known as action short of dismissal). Such penalties can only be imposed if allowed for in your contract or your employer’s local policy.


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Appeals

The outcome letter from your hearing and employer’s local policy will outline the time limits for you to submit an appeal. You need to ensure that your appeal is submitted, in writing, to your employer within this time frame. You will be expected to include the reason for your appeal. Possible grounds of appeal are:

  • the finding is unfair
  • new evidence has come to light
  • the procedures were not used consistently or correctly.

The appeal should be heard by a higher authority than the original hearing panel and presided over by someone not previously involved. You should be notified in writing of the outcome of the appeal hearing.

In the case of small organisations (fewer than 20 staff) the manager may have to chair the initial hearing and the appeal but must endeavour to act as impartially as possible.

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Employment tribunal time limits

There are very rigid time limits for submitting claims to an employment/industrial tribunal. For most claims this is three months less one day from the date of the incident, e.g. act of discrimination/dismissal – this is called the limitation date.

The length of time that is taken to investigate and deal with a disciplinary case can often take up a similar period of time, or in some cases a final decision is not reached until after the limitation date for lodging a claim has expired. As a result employment tribunal limitation dates can easily be missed. It is therefore vital that you seek our advice as soon as possible and at least six weeks before the expiry of the limitation date. This enables our legal team to assess any potential claim and advise you if it can be supported by us in good time. 

Read our advice on employment/industrial tribunals for more.

In England, Wales and Scotland, in order to bring a claim in the tribunal it is obligatory for all claimants to notify their tribunal claim to ACAS for a process of early conciliation. For more information see ACAS early conciliation and speak to your RCN representative for advice.

In Northern Ireland, the pre-claim conciliation service operates in a similar way and you should seek advice from us as soon as posisble. Find out more from the Labour Relations Agency

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Grievance procedures

Discipline and grievance procedures are closely linked. If you want to raise a grievance during the process it may be appropriate to suspend the disciplinary procedure for a short period to allow the grievance to be considered. In cases where the disciplinary and grievance are related, both may be heard together. Please discuss this with your RCN representative before taking any action. Read our information on grievance.

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Further information

ACAS Code of Practice and Discipline and Grievance - provides free and impartial advice to employers and employees in Britain on working relations and employment law

Labour Relations Agency - Non departmental public body responsible for improving employment relations in Northern Ireland


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Call the RCN on: 03457726100


Page last updated - 13/12/2018