Step 4: The disciplinary hearing
Where the investigation shows the employee has a case to answer, the employer should ask them to a disciplinary meeting or 'hearing'.
Preparing for the hearing
The hearing should be held as soon as possible after the investigation, while giving reasonable time for the employee to prepare.
In good time before the hearing, the employer should put in writing to the employee:
- the alleged misconduct or performance issue
- any evidence from the investigation
- any other information they plan to talk about
- the date, time and location of the hearing
- information on the employee's right to be accompanied to the hearing
- the possible outcomes
The employee can also bring evidence to the hearing, for example emails, to show and talk about.
The right to be accompanied
By law, an employee or worker can bring a relevant person ('companion') with them to a disciplinary hearing. This is called 'the right to be accompanied'.
The employee should tell their employer as soon as possible who they want to be their companion so arrangements can be made in good time.
Who the employee can bring with them
The employee must choose their companion from one of the following:
- a work colleague
- a workplace trade union representative who's certified or trained in acting as a companion
- an official employed by a trade union
Under discrimination law, employers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. This might mean allowing someone else to attend, for example a support worker or someone with knowledge of the disability and its effects.
Employers can, but do not have to, allow companions who do not fall within the above categories. For example, some employment contracts might allow for a professional support body, partner, spouse or legal representative.
What happens in a 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.
The employer should:
- explain the employee's alleged misconduct or performance issue
- go through the evidence
- make sure someone takes notes
The employee should be given the chance to:
- set out their case
- answer any allegations
- ask questions
- show evidence
- call relevant witnesses (with good notice)
- respond to any information given by witnesses
- choose if their companion can speak for them at the hearing
The employee's companion should be allowed to:
- set out the employee's case
- respond for the employee to any comments or points made at the meeting
- talk with the employee during the hearing
- take notes
- sum up the employee's case at the end of the hearing
The employer may agree to allow the companion to answer questions on behalf of the employee. But this is not a legal requirement.
For more details on holding disciplinary hearings, you can use the Acas guide to discipline and grievances at work.
At the end of the hearing
It's a good idea for the employer to take some time after the hearing to consider the case carefully before making a decision.
The employer should:
- tell the employee what happens next and give a timeframe
- take a written confidential record of the hearing
If the employee is absent or off sick
If the employee is absent or off sick for the disciplinary hearing, the employer should pause the disciplinary procedure until they return to work.
If the employee still says they cannot attend or if they go on extended sick leave, the employer should see if it would help to make other arrangements.
For example, if the employee is off with stress and is worried about coming to the workplace, they could hold the meeting somewhere else.
If the employee still refuses to or cannot meet, the employer will need to look at the case and come to a reasonable decision.
The employer could look at:
- any rules their workplace has for dealing with failure to attend disciplinary meetings
- how their workplace dealt with similar cases in the past
- the seriousness of the disciplinary issue
- the employee's disciplinary record, general work record, work experience, position and length of service
- getting a medical opinion on whether the employee is fit to attend the meeting (with the employee's permission)
If the employer reaches a decision, they should tell the employee in writing and tell them of their right of appeal.
You can read more details in Appendix 4: Dealing with absence in the Acas guide to discipline and grievances at work.