How to avoid common disciplinary mistakes in education

Disciplinary proceedings are the last thing any school leader wants to deal with. However, if they are carried out incorrectly, they can waste time and money and damage morale. It is therefore important to avoid these common disciplinary mistakes in your school:

Mistake #1: Not following the correct procedure

You should follow both your own procedure and ACAS’ Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures at all times, and it is essential this is rolled out and practiced consistently.

Failure to follow a fair and lawful procedure could result in the disciplinary action being deemed unfair, regardless of whether the sanction issues is reasonable in the circumstances. This could even lead to discrimination allegations: if a male employee is treated less favourably than a female employee during their disciplinary action, for example.

Mistake #2: Improper investigation

You must conduct a reasonable and comprehensive investigation to gather relevant evidence before you decide whether to hold a formal hearing. It is a good idea to hold an investigation meeting prior to the disciplinary hearing so that both parties can clearly establish the facts of the case before the disciplinary process advances any further.

The employee under the spotlight and any employees involved in the investigation as witnesses should be asked not to discuss the allegations with anyone else.

Mistake #3: Providing insufficient evidence

You must provide the employee with all relevant evidence held against them in advance of their disciplinary hearing. This is so they have plenty of time to consider the case against them and build their defence.

It is also important to give the employee in question adequate notice to prepare. Your policy will specify the notice that you are required to give, however, this is usually either 5 or 10 working days.

Mistake #4: Failure to allow representation

Employees are legally entitled to be accompanied by either a work colleague, trade union representative or accredited trade union official at their disciplinary hearing, and this right should be relayed to them in their letter of invitation.

If the employee’s representative is unable to make the hearing date you originally proposed, the employee can request an alternative, suitable time within five days of the date the school initially proposed. If this cannot be accommodated or if the date is more than 5 days later the school should be reasonable in considering any alternative.  An unreasonable refusal to agree a later date may undermine the fairness of any subsequent dismissal. Care should be taken to ensure that the date finally agreed does not cause deadlines for notice to be missed – which can lead to a significant cost.

Mistake #5: Using the same person at each stage

Refrain from using the same person to conduct the investigation process, disciplinary hearing and appeal hearing. If you do, there is a chance any dismissal could be considered unfair. In an ideal world, a different person would carry out each stage.

Mistake #6: Incomplete and inaccurate records

It is important to record and keep legible, complete and accurate notes throughout the entire disciplinary process. If you do not have written evidence to take away from any meetings, it can render their contents ambiguous and open them up to be challenged.

Records should be held in accordance with your data protection and retention policy.

If you have any questions about anything we have discussed in this article, please do not hesitate to contact our experts on epm@epm.co.uk or 01480 431 993.

For more information on how we help schools stay away from disciplinary mistakes, see how existing customers benefit from our services here.

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