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Breaking the Acas Code: risks and repercussions

As soon as an employee goes to their employer with a grievance or an employer raises a disciplinary matter with an employee, both parties need to be familiar with the 45 paragraphs of the Acas Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance. This is not just because it provides basic practical guidance and sets out principles for handling disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace, but because it is a statutory document and failure to adhere to it at any point could eventually result in financial penalties.

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 cases. Tribunals have the power to adjust awards by up to 25 per cent for unreasonable failure to comply with the Code. Thus, if a tribunal considers that an employer has unreasonably failed to follow the Code they can increase the award to the employee by 25 per cent, and employees who unreasonably fail to follow the Code can have any awards reduced by 25 per cent.

An employer who, for example, fails to record a material fact such as the correct or precise reason for a dismissal might find that a tribunal considers this an unreasonable failure to follow the code. This is because if significant  information is wrong, ensuing processes that are based on it can be flawed. On the other hand, something like failing to provide the employee with certain information in writing, although technically a breach of the code, might not be considered an unreasonable failure if it is evident that the employee would have been made well aware of the same information in other ways.

The full text of the Discipline and grievance - Acas Code of Practice is available in both online and downloadable formats. Acas provides training on Dispute resolution, including handling grievances effectively, disciplinary interviews and conducting investigations.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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