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Dealing with disciplinary action and dismissal at work

Who is this information for

This information is for employees who have been disciplined or dismissed by their employers.

Not all workers are employees. You may not be an employee if you are:

  • an agency worker
  • a homeworker
  • self-employed.

For more information about agency workers, see Agency workers' rights.

For more information about homeworkers and self-employed, go to the Directgov website at www.direct.gov.uk.

If you're not an employee, or not sure whether you're an employee you will need to get advice before using this information. You can get advice from one of the organisations listed under Further help.

You should use this information if your employer started disciplinary or dismissal action against you on or after 6 April 2009.

You should not use this information if your employer started disciplinary or dismissal action against you before 6 April 2009, even if the action is still going on. This is because the rules are different. If you are in this situation, you should get advice from one of the organisations listed under Further help.

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What is disciplinary action at work?

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

There are a number of reasons why your employer may 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 may not sort out their concerns in this way and they may decide to start a disciplinary procedure. This could lead to disciplinary action and, in some cases, even dismissal.

If your employer decides to a take disciplinary action or dismiss you, they should follow the procedures which are laid out in the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. They don't have to follow these procedures. However, if you decide to take your employer to an employment tribunal and you win your case, your employer could be ordered to pay you more compensation for not following the procedures.

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Sorting out the problem informally

The first time you may 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 sometimes this may be the result of a misunderstanding, and you may be able to provide evidence, for example a doctor's note, to clear things up. You should, however, keep a note of the conversation and what was agreed.

However, it may not always be possible for your employer to sort out their concerns informally and they may start formal disciplinary procedures. In some cases, this may lead to dismissal.

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Disciplinary and dismissal procedures

If your employer decides to start disciplinary or dismissal action against you, they should follow the Acas Code of Practice. The Code of Practice sets out standards of fairness and reasonable behaviour that employers and employees are expected to follow in most situations when dealing with a dispute.

Your employer doesn't have to follow the Code of Practice. However, if you decide to take your employer to an employment tribunal and you win your case, they could be ordered to pay you more compensation for not following the Code.

If your employer is taking disciplinary action against you, it's always a good idea to keep a note of exactly what happens and when.

If your employer follows the Code of Practice, their disciplinary and dismissal procedures will include the following steps:

Sending a letter

If your employer is considering disciplinary action or dismissal, their first step should be to write to you setting out the complaint about your work.

The next step will be a meeting to discuss the problem. Your employer's letter should include full details about what they are saying you have done wrong. There should be enough detail for you to be able to prepare a response or an explanation before the meeting. The letter should also say you have a right to have someone at the meeting with you.

Arranging a meeting

Once your employer has contacted you in writing, they should also arrange a meeting at a reasonable time and place to discuss the problem. Your employer should not take any disciplinary action before this meeting. You have a legal right to ask someone to accompany you to the meeting - either a colleague from work or a trade union representative. 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 and should do this in writing.

Appealing

If you don't agree with your employer’s decision, your employer should give you the opportunity to appeal against it.

You don't have to appeal, but if you later decide to go to an employment tribunal and you win your case, the tribunal may reduce any compensation awarded to you as a result of your failure to appeal.

If you want to appeal, you should do this within a reasonable period of time and you should put your appeal in writing. Your letter should:

  • say that you are appealing against your employer's decision
  • explain why you don't agree with the decision.

Your employer should arrange a further meeting to discuss your appeal.

You have a legal right to ask either a colleague from work or a trade union representative to accompany you to the meeting.

You should make sure you, or the person with you, takes notes at the appeal meeting.

After the appeal meeting, your employer should write to you and tell you their final decision.

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

Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to:

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Mediation

You or your employer may 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 and your employer to reach a solution that is acceptable to everyone. Sometimes the mediator may come from within your organisation, or your employer may want to consider bringing in an external mediator.

External mediation services are not free although if both you and your employer agree to use mediation, it will usually be your employer who pays.

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Making an employment tribunal claim

Employment tribunals sort out disagreements between employers and employees.

You may need to make a claim to an employment tribunal if:

  • you don't agree with the disciplinary action your employer has taken against you
  • your employer dismisses you and you think that you have been dismissed unfairly.

For more information about dismissal and unfair dismissal, see Dismissal.

You can make a claim to an employment tribunal, even if you haven't appealed against the disciplinary action your employer has taken against you. However, if you win your case, the tribunal may reduce any compensation awarded to you as a result of your failure to appeal.

Remember that in most cases you must make an application to an employment tribunal within three months of the date when the event you are complaining about happened. If your application is received after this time limit, the tribunal will not usually accept it.

From 6 April, the early conciliation process applies to most employment tribunal claims and will affect the time limit for your claim. From 6 May, you must contact Acas to start the early conciliation process before you can make a claim to an employment tribunal.

For more information about early conciliation and how it affects the time limit, see Early conciliation - how it works and Early conciliation - how it affects the time limit for making a claim.

If you are worried about how the time limits apply to you, take advice from one of the organisations listed under Further help.

Employment tribunals are less formal than some other courts, but it is still a legal process and you will need to give evidence under an oath or affirmation.

Most people find making a claim to an employment tribunal challenging. If you are thinking about making a claim to an employment tribunal, you should get help straight away from one of the organisations listed under Further help.

If you are being represented by a solicitor at the tribunal, they may ask you to sign an agreement where you pay their fee out of your compensation if you win the case. This is known as a damages-based agreement. In England and Wales, your solicitor can't charge you more than 35% of your compensation  if you win the case.

If you are thinking about signing up for  a damages-based agreement, you should make sure you're clear about the terms of the agreement. It might be best to get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.  To find your nearest CAB, including those that give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

For more information about making a claim to an employment tribunal, see Employment tribunals.

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Further help

Acas

Acas works with both employers and employees to solve workplace problems.

You can phone the Acas helpline on: 0300 123 1100 and speak to an advisor about your employment problems. The helpline is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

The Acas website at www.acas.org.uk has lots of useful information about how to sort out workplace problems. This includes the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures which all employers and employees should follow when they are trying to sort out problems at work. To download a copy of the Code, go to: www.acas.org.uk.

Citizens Advice Bureaux

Citizens Advice Bureaux give free, confidential, impartial and independent advice to help you solve problems. To find your nearest CAB, including those that give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB. You can also look under C in the phone book.

Trade unions

If you're a trade union member, contact your union representative.

You can also get useful information and advice on the TUC's website at: www.worksmart.org.uk.

Employment Tribunal Service

The Employment Tribunal Service has a public enquiry line to answer your queries, provide information about tribunal publications and explain how the tribunal system works. They cannot give you legal advice, such as advising you on your claim. The enquiry line number is: 0845 795 9775, or Minicom: 845 757 3722.

Solicitors

For information about how to find a solicitor specialising in employment problems, see Using a solicitor.

For information about how to find a solicitor specialising in employment problems, see Using a solicitor.

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