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Dealing with disciplinary action at work

This advice applies to England

If your employer has concerns or a complaint about your work, they might decide to take disciplinary action against you.

There are a number of reasons why your employer might decide to take disciplinary action against you. These include your:

  • behaviour at work
  • absence from work
  • standard of work

Your employer should try to sort out their concerns by talking to you informally, if at all possible.

However, employers might not sort out their concerns in this way and they could decide to start a disciplinary procedure. This could lead to disciplinary action and, in some cases, even dismissal.

Sorting out the problem informally

The first time you might be aware of a problem with your employer is when they ask to talk to you about a concern they have. 

It is often best to keep this conversation informal at first because it might be the result of a misunderstanding. You might be able to provide evidence that will help clear things up - for example a doctor's note. 

Make sure you keep a note of the conversation and what was agreed.

It might not be possible for your employer to sort out their concerns informally and they might start formal disciplinary procedures. In some cases, this could lead to dismissal.

If your employer decides to take disciplinary action against you

You employer should follow a written process, which explains the standards of fairness they'll follow in the disciplinary action. 

They might use the Acas Code of Practice, or they might have their own procedure, which should be similar.

It's a good idea to keep a note of exactly what happens and when.

Steps your employer should take

Their first step should be to write to you, setting out their complaint about your work.

When they write, they should:

  • explain what they are saying you have done wrong - there should be enough detail for you to be able to prepare your response  
  • tell you that the next step will be a meeting to discuss the problem - they should also let you know when and where it will take place
  • let  you know that you have the right to have someone at the meeting with you - this could be a colleague from work or a trade union representative

Your employer shouldn’t take any disciplinary action before the meeting. 

Your employer should give you the opportunity to set out your case at the meeting. 

After the meeting, your employer should tell you what they have decided - they  should do this in writing.

You can read about how to prepare for a disciplinary meeting.

If you don't agree with your employer’s decision 

Your employer should give you the opportunity to appeal against their decision.

You don't have to appeal, but it's worth it if you might later decide to go to an employment tribunal. If you win your case, the tribunal could reduce your compensation because you didn't appeal to your employer first.

If you're still not happy with your employer’s decision, you might want to think about other ways of sorting out your problems with your employer.

Depending on the circumstances, you might be able to:

  • go to mediation


You or your employer might want to consider mediation as a way to help resolve the problem. 

Mediation is completely voluntary and confidential. It involves an independent, impartial person helping you reach a solution that is acceptable to everyone. 

Sometimes the mediator comes from within your organisation, or your employer might want to bring in an external mediator.

External mediation services are not free, though if both you and your employer agree to use mediation your employer usually pays.

If your employer doesn’t follow the steps

You might decide to make a claim to an employment tribunal. If you win your case, the amount of compensation your employer has to pay you could be more than it would have been if they’d followed the ACAS code of practice.

If they dismiss you, you might be able to challenge your dismissal because they didn’t follow the Acas code of practice.

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