Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Confusion over new employee discipline procedures

The introduction of statutory discipline and grievance procedures - and in particular the fact that a failure to fulfil the requirements of the discipline procedures means that a dismissal is automatically unfair - has made some schools and colleges concerned that a merely technical failure will put them in difficulties.

Encouragingly, however, the employment appeal tribunal has made it clear that it is not prepared to go beyond the bare language of the act when deciding whether an employer has failed to fulfil the statutory discipline procedures, and thus a dismissal is 'automatically unfair'.

The test suggested is that a person being disciplined must have been given a 'reasonably detailed' account of the allegations; a meeting has been held at which she or he could state her/his case, and does so; she/he is informed of the result and given the right to appeal.

The statutory process only requires 'headline' charges and it is normal and acceptable that the grounds for disciplinary action and the basis of evidence on which action was to be taken could be conflated.

Schools and colleges will undoubtedly have detailed disciplinary procedures, and these will almost certainly meet the minimum standard and usually will exceed it. This judgement means that they will not be caught out by technicalities.

However, it does not remove the need to check on the procedures from the very start of any disciplinary action, however informal.

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