Conducting disciplinary proceedings is not typically viewed as a Project Manager’s responsibility. However, there are some parts of the proceedings which are typical when managing a team. Indeed, Project Managers can be well suited to involvement in disciplinary matters, as their responsibilities in managing a well motivated and cohesive team may often mean dealing with underperformers or misconduct. This article outlines the legal requirements that apply to the disciplinary process. The guide should be useful for project managers managing a team as well as their own role as an employee.
Unless the employee’s misconduct or poor performance is very serious, it is generally most appropriate to take informal disciplinary action first. Having a quiet word with the employee might be all it takes to resolve the conduct or to elicit an explanation or justification for their behaviour.
It is important to make it clear to the employee that the matter is outside of the formal disciplinary process. Otherwise a number of procedural requirements under employment law will kick in. However, it is still advisable to make a record of the discussion and provide a copy to the employee.
With misconduct or poor performance that is serious, like insubordination, serious breaches of health and safety, or a matter that has been continued after an informal discussion with the employee, it might be necessary to initiate formal disciplinary proceedings.
The employee must be notified in writing of the supposed misconduct or poor performance; a meeting (or “disciplinary hearing”) must be held before a decision is taken on disciplinary action; and the employee must have the right to appeal. Where it is necessary to establish certain facts before deciding whether to continue the disciplinary process, there should also be a separate “investigative hearing”. The entire process must be transparent, non-discriminatory, fair and impartial.
The disciplinary hearing should be a two-way process allowing the employee to make their case. The employee has the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or trade union representative, although when required the employee must answer questions themselves. Where possible, a neutral person should be present to act as a witness and take notes.
The decision regarding disciplinary action must be taken after the meeting and the employee informed in writing. In most cases the outcome would be an initial warning; or final warning in cases of serious or repeated misconduct. Where there has been gross misconduct, like harassment in the workplace or bringing the organisation into disrepute, the employee may be dismissed with immediate effect.
Those conducting disciplinary proceedings must ensure that they comply with the legal requirements. Even where an employee clearly deserves to be dismissed; failure to comply even with a seemingly trivial procedural requirement could result in their having a valid claim for unlawful discrimination or dismissal. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) provides comprehensive guidance which, although not legally binding, clearly sets out what is required for employee disciplinary proceedings to comply with the law.