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Breaking the Acas Code: risks and repercussions

The 45 paragraphs of the Acas Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance come into play as soon as an employee raises a grievance with their employer or an employer raises an issue of misconduct or poor performance with an employee. It 'provides basic practical guidance to employers, employees and their representatives and sets out principles for handling disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace'. But at the same time, it is a statutory document and if either employers or employees infringe the Code in a way that a tribunal finds unreasonable, they lay themselves open to legal consequences.

The Code is designed to ensure fairness, and stipulates several factors that contribute to this:

  • Employers and employees should raise and deal with issues promptly and should not unreasonably delay meetings, decisions or confirmation of those decisions.
  • Employers and employees should act consistently.
  • Employers should carry out any necessary investigations, to establish the facts of the case.
  • Employers should inform employees of the basis of the problem and give them an opportunity to put their case in response before any decisions are made.
  • Employers should allow employees to be accompanied at any formal disciplinary or grievance meeting.
  • Employers should allow an employee to appeal against any formal decision made.

Failing to follow the Code does not necessarily make a person or organisation liable to proceedings, but employment tribunals will take the Code into account when considering relevant cases. Tribunals have the ability to adjust awards by up to 25 per cent for unreasonable failure to comply with the Code.

The Code does not apply in cases of dismissals due to redundancy or the non-renewal of fixed term contracts that have expired.

The full text of the Discipline and grievance - Acas Code of Practice is available online and as a download. Acas provides training courses on a wide range of topics connected with Conflict management, as well as Discipline and Grievance - Essential Acas training for Managers.

Visit Contracts and hours: how Acas can help in the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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