A Guide To Holding A Formal Disciplinary Meeting

This is a guide to holding formal disciplinary meetings. It is aimed at dealing with conduct issues (e.g. lateness, dishonesty, etc.) as opposed to issues of poor performance (i.e. where an employee is carrying out their duties, just not to a satisfactory standard).

What is a formal disciplinary meeting, and what do Australian employers need to know about it?

A formal disciplinary meeting is a meeting between an employer and an employee to address a performance or behaviour issue.

When is it appropriate to hold a formal disciplinary meeting?

A formal disciplinary meeting should be held when informal performance management techniques have failed to resolve the issue. It is important that employers follow a fair and consistent process when considering disciplinary action.

Why is this process important?

Employees may be able to bring a claim against their employer (for example a claim in unfair dismissal) if they are dismissed without the employer following a “procedurally fair” disciplinary process. This may include where the dismissal is based on a number of warnings being given to the employee where no formal process was followed in issuing the warnings. Formal disciplinary meetings are a key step in showing that the employer has followed a fair process.

How should employers prepare for a formal disciplinary meeting?

Employers should gather all relevant information and evidence, and give the employee notice of the meeting in writing. They should also give the employee the opportunity to respond to the allegations and bring a support person.

Step 1: Give the Employee a Written Invitation to the Disciplinary Meeting

The letter should contain the following:

  • The time, date and location of the meeting (ideally in between 24 to 48 hours’ time);
  • Details of conduct issues to be discussed at the meeting (so the employee can prepare). Ideally this should state what happened and when. Provide specific examples if possible;
  • A statement telling the employee they can bring a support person to the meeting;
  • A warning that the outcome of the meeting could be a formal written warning or the termination of their employment; and
  • A requirement that the employee keeps the content of the letter confidential

What should happen during the meeting?

The employer should explain the allegations and evidence, and give the employee the opportunity to respond. The employer should also consider any mitigating factors and decide on an appropriate outcome. The employee should be informed of the decision in writing.

Step 2: Hold the Disciplinary Meeting

At the meeting:

  • Remind the support person (if present) that they cannot talk on the employee’s behalf, but are there just to provide support to the employee;
  • Read out each conduct issue from the letter and ask for the employee’s response;
  • If termination of employment is being considered, ask the employee for their view as to why they should not be dismissed;
  • Ask the employee if they have anything else to add;
  • Take a written note of everything the employee says; and
  • Conclude the meeting by telling the employee that you will consider everything they have said and will confirm the outcome in writing shortly.

Do not make a decision on termination of employment or giving a warning in the meeting! Always take time to consider the most appropriate cause of action and whether you need to do more investigation. Always consider the personal circumstances of the employee (length of service, likelihood of being able to find alternative work, financial situation, etc.) before taking a decision to dismiss.

What outcomes can result from a formal disciplinary meeting?

Step 3: Confirm the Outcome of the Meeting in Writing

Possible outcomes of the disciplinary meeting include:

  • To take no formal action;
  • A formal written warning; or
  • Termination of employment (generally only advisable where the employee has already been issued a number of written warnings or where the misconduct has been very serious).

The outcome should always be confirmed in writing.

What are some other things that employers should keep in mind when it comes to formal disciplinary meetings?

Employers should ensure that they follow a fair and consistent process, and that they document all steps taken. They should also ensure that they comply with any relevant employment laws, such as the Fair Work Act 2009.

What are the legal requirements for holding a formal disciplinary meeting in Australia?

Under Australian law, employers must provide employees with notice of the meeting, including the reasons for the meeting and the possible outcomes. Employees also have the right to bring a support person to the meeting. Employers should also ensure that they comply with any relevant provisions in the employee’s contract or industrial instrument.

Can an employee refuse to attend a formal disciplinary meeting?

While an employee can’t refuse to attend a formal disciplinary meeting, they can request a reasonable adjustment to the meeting time or location if they have a valid reason. Employers should consider these requests in good faith.

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The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.

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