Steps to take if you need to dismiss an employee

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One area that can cause employers a great deal of anxiety is knowing what to do when they need to dismiss an employee. Employment Law on dismissing staff applies across the board for all companies in the UK, but whereas large organisations have HR departments who are up to speed on disciplinary procedures, small business owners can rarely rely on that kind of support. If you need to dismiss a member of staff, it’s important you do things right, or you could end up having to defend yourself from an unfair dismissal claim, which can be both time-consuming and costly.

You can dismiss someone fairly for one of several reasons: because of their conduct or behaviour; their capability of doing the job to the required standard; a breach of statutory restrictions, such as not being allowed to work legally in the UK; redundancy, and, in some circumstances, due to illness. If you don’t have one of these reasons, then the dismissal may be deemed unfair, even if you’ve followed the right procedure.

Your step-by-step guide

Here we set out the steps you are legally required to follow before you can dismiss an employee because of their conduct – often one of the trickiest areas for small businesses.

Get your facts straight

Before you arrange a disciplinary meeting with the employee, try to establish all the facts and gather as much evidence as you can. This may be a matter of collating paperwork, copies of emails, checking CCTV, and speaking to any witnesses, as well as the individual accused of misconduct.

Contact the employee

Once you are satisfied you have a clear picture of the situation, you need to write to the employee and explain in clear and simple terms what they are accused of. You should also provide them with copies of the evidence you have and invite them to attend a disciplinary meeting to discuss the matter. You should offer them the opportunity to bring along a colleague or union representative to the meeting and give them at least 24 hours’ notice of the meeting.

At the meeting

Make sure you keep an accurate record of what is said at the meeting. Ideally, you should have someone taking notes rather than trying to do this yourself. To start with, set out the allegations against the individual and give them a full and fair opportunity to reply to the evidence you present and put their side of the story. After the meeting, forward a record of what was said and state the outcome, whether the employee is to receive a formal warning about his or her conduct, or is to be dismissed. In both instances, the employee has the right of appeal.

Two types of dismissals

In the case of gross misconduct, you can dismiss an employee without notice, even if it’s their first offence. Some examples of gross misconduct include fighting at work, bullying or harassing a fellow member of staff or customer, theft, being drunk or under the influence of drugs at work, attempting to defraud the company, or acting in such a way that could harm the reputation of the company. In short, the individual has seriously breached the terms of their contract beyond any reasonable point or expectation of repair.

Verbal and written warnings

Dismissal with notice is usually the last resort and typically comes after the employee has been issued with a verbal warning as well as two written warnings about their conduct, but chooses not to take heed of these and amend his or her behaviour. Examples of this type of misconduct includes repeated lateness, repeated negligence in carrying out their duties, and not following management instructions. It’s important to note that as an employer you have to give the individual the opportunity to change their behaviour, or improve their performance through extra training or support, before you can move to dismiss them. Another option worth remembering is that you can suspend an employee on full pay until you have all the facts to hand, or have decided how to proceed.

Disciplinary procedure

As an employer, you should issue staff with a disciplinary procedure and policy when they take up employment. If you need guidance, a good place to start is with a copy of the ACAS code of practice on discipline and grievances at work. Download a copy here. For more information on dismissing staff, click here.

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