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Insubordination and Disciplinary Procedure at Work

9 min read

Disciplinary procedures are a very serious matter. They should be considered a last resort after all other avenues have been explored to deal with a situation. Whilst insubordination and disciplinary procedure at work are things we would all rather avoid, it is integral to have a robust disciplinary policy in place to protect both your business and the individuals working within it.

As an HR professional or someone assuming the role in a small business, you play a crucial role during the process leading up to, including, and following any disciplinary hearing. It is your responsibility to remain impartial during what can be an emotional time and to keep the dialogue professional. This will ensure the best possible outcome for everyone involved.

In this article, we’ll look at insubordination and disciplinary procedure in the workplace in more detail. We’ll cover:

What is Insubordination?

The definition of insubordination is ‘defiance of authority; refusal to obey orders.’ In the workplace, it is characterised as a deliberate act of defiance and disrespect towards superiors. Insubordination can take many forms, including: being late, leaving early, refusing to complete tasks, disrespecting authority figures or sabotaging the operation of the business.

Insubordination is a scale; the trick is to successfully navigate how to respond to different circumstances fairly and appropriately.

What is a Disciplinary Procedure?

A disciplinary procedure is the set way to deal with disciplinary issues in the workplace. Your procedure will have degrees of action or steps you take to deal with employee misconduct and insubordination varying in severity. Your policy should be outlined in your employee handbook, from informal discussions for less severe cases to formal disciplinary hearings for more significant ones.

Some examples of behaviour that might warrant a disciplinary procedure are:

  • Unacceptable or improper behaviour (this should be clearly defined in your employee handbook)
  • Social media, Internet, or email misuse
  • Bullying
  • Harassment of other employees or the public
  • Refusal to do work as directed
  • Being absent without notice or permission
  • Poor timekeeping
  • Poor performance
  • Gross misconduct – including theft, fraud, harassment, violence, severe breaches of Health and Safety, drug or alcohol misuse.

It’s important to remember that ‘disciplinary’ in the workplace stretches beyond the standard definition. Except in extreme circumstances, the focus of the disciplinary procedure is to encourage conversation and seek resolution. The process is as much about the employee having their chance to speak and be heard as it is for the employer to voice their concerns. The goal is to reach an agreement that suits both parties, whereby the situation improves.

There are some situations when moving straight to the formal disciplinary procedure is necessary, but use your judgment. In a case of consistently poor timekeeping on an otherwise exemplary record, you might start by talking to the team member privately to ascertain if their circumstances outside work might be causing their lateness. Listen to what they have to say and agree between you on actions that will improve the situation. If the issue is performance-related, it might be beneficial to set up a training and development plan with the employee to help their performance improve.

Once you have explored other routes and you determine a disciplinary is the right course of action, or you’ve exhausted the other means available to you and the employee’s behaviour isn’t improving, it might be time to start disciplinary proceedings.


How Disciplinary Procedures Work

The ACAS Formal Disciplinary Policy is what many businesses use to inform their own disciplinary procedure. Your policy should establish a clear approach demonstrating a fair, consistent process for dealing with misconduct. Your policy should also contain examples of unacceptable behaviour and what constitutes gross misconduct.

The ACAS code of practice for disciplinaries states that there should be at least two steps in the procedure before dismissal, except with gross misconduct. Usually, you progress through the scale of warnings in line with the seriousness of the misconduct.

Here’s an example of the common levels of escalation we see in employee disciplinary policies:

Verbal Warning
Verbal warnings address misconduct that isn’t serious but still needs tackling. Verbal warnings can be formal or informal. Remember, the consequences of leaving inappropriate behaviour unchecked can escalate in the future.

Written Warning
Appropriate in response to a relatively minor or first issue. The written warning should come with expectations of a change in behaviour going forward and outline further action should those expectations not be met.

Final Warning
Use of a final warning occurs if there is already a warning in place, and in cases of serious misconduct, a first and final warning is issued. It is worth noting that written warnings are usually valid for six months.

Usually, you would escalate to dismissal through the previous warning stages; in this case, an employee is entitled to their notice period. When an employee is dismissed due to gross misconduct and without prior warnings, this is called a summary dismissal. The dismissal is immediate and without notice entitlement or notice pay.

Conducting an Investigation

Once you have decided that formal disciplinary action is the right course of action, it is time to begin an investigation. If possible, you should appoint an investigating officer or conduct the research yourself if the business is small. The investigation is a crucial part of the disciplinary procedure. It is vital to ensure fairness in the system. Should a disciplinary lead to an employment tribunal, the investigative work will be central to the legal element.

During the investigation, it is essential to remain impartial and collect evidence that challenges and supports both sides of the case and not just try to prove your assumptions. Often it is conducted better by someone who is not emotionally involved. Many third-party options are available if you cannot detach from the emotional aspect of the situation.

A thorough investigation usually involves two tactics.

  1. Interviewing Witnesses – including colleagues, customers, and anyone else who might have been present during the incident or incidences of misconduct.
  2. Gathering Evidence – there is usually a multitude of resources from which to collect evidence in the workplace, including CCTV, timesheets, and emails.

You might need to conduct an ‘Investigation Meeting’ with the employee going through the disciplinary action to collect evidence. This is not the same as the disciplinary meeting. The employee doesn’t have the right to bring a colleague or trade union representative unless you have outlined this specifically in your disciplinary policy. It is also unnecessary to write to them in advance to invite them to the meeting.

The evidence gathered in your investigation will help to determine your next course of action. At this point, you decide whether there are grounds for misconduct or you should dismiss the case, and no further action is needed.

Should you decide to proceed with the disciplinary action, the investigation leader will need to hand over the evidence to the disciplinary officer. Remember, the investigation results will also need to be shared with the employee before the disciplinary hearing.


Executing a Disciplinary Hearing

Once the investigation is complete and the disciplinary officer has taken over the proceedings, they must write to the employee to invite them to the disciplinary hearing.

These are the most important things to remember during the process:

  • Give your appropriate notice of the meeting.
  • Provide the evidence you will be relying on in advance.
  • Clearly state the allegations you will be discussing in the invitation and the potential outcomes from the hearing.
  • Make sure the employee knows they have the right to be accompanied.
  • Inform them of their right to appeal.

During the meeting, the disciplinary officer must explain the allegations and invite the employee to respond. Then, with the employee, thoroughly review the evidence before allowing them to comment and respond again. This discussion might give rise to the need for further investigation, or you might be able to decide on an outcome immediately.

Disciplinary Hearing Questions

Here are our top examples of disciplinary hearing questions:

  1. How do you respond to the specific allegations brought against you in this disciplinary hearing?
  2. Can you provide additional context or information that may help us better understand the circumstances surrounding the incident?
  3. Were you aware of the company policies and guidelines related to the alleged behaviour, and do you acknowledge any violation of these policies?
  4. Have you received any training or guidance regarding the specific policies implicated in this disciplinary process?
  5. Are there any mitigating factors or extenuating circumstances that you believe should be considered in evaluating the severity of the alleged misconduct?
  6. How do you plan to address and rectify the issues raised during this disciplinary process to ensure they do not recur in the future?
  7. Have you taken any steps, or do you propose to take any steps, to prevent a similar situation from happening again in the future?
  8. How do you perceive your role in maintaining a positive and respectful work environment, and what steps do you intend to take to contribute to a more positive workplace culture?

The Outcome

The outcome of the disciplinary hearing is the decision on what action needs to be taken. Take your time to decide. It is important to consider that your decision is fair, reasonable and in line with the outcome of similar cases to ensure consistency. It is also worthwhile considering any mitigating circumstances and the employee’s length of service.

Once you have decided, you will need to inform the employee. This must always be done in writing and as quickly as possible. Your letter should include:

  • Details of the misconduct.
  • The level of warning and how long the warning will remain active.
  • Whether they’re being dismissed and the grounds for dismissal.
  • Any expectation of behavioural changes and the consequences if they fail to improve.
  • The right to appeal and timescale.

What Happens Next?

Once the disciplinary procedure has concluded, the employee can appeal your decision if they feel it is wrong or unfair. In this scenario, you must look at the case again to ensure the procedure was conducted fairly and the outcome is fair.

If the employee would like to appeal, they must reach out in writing and explain why they think the outcome was not fair or correct.

As an employer, you must hear the appeal, reexamine the evidence, conduct a further investigation if necessary, and reexamine the outcome to see if another course is more appropriate. Having a third party reevaluate the case can benefit all parties. Once the appeal is complete, you must inform the employee of your decision in writing as soon as possible.

Disciplinary Hearing Script Template

Below is our disciplinary hearing script template, outlining all of the steps you need to take during the proceedings:

  1. Introduction: Opening Statement, welcome and introduction of participants, explanation of the purpose of the disciplinary hearing
  2. Participant Introductions: Chairperson, HR Representative/Manager, Employee, Note Taker
  3. Review of Company Policies: Brief overview of relevant company policies, with emphasis on the importance of adherence to company policies
  4. Presentation of Allegations:
    HR Representative/Manager presents the case against the employee
    Clear and concise explanation of the allegations
    Presentation of supporting evidence (documents, witness statements, etc.)
  5. Employee’s Response:
    Employee’s opportunity to respond to the allegations
    Employee provides a defence against each allegation
    Presentation of any supporting evidence or explanations
  6. Questioning:
     HR Representative/Manager asks questions for clarification or additional information
    Employee responds to questions
    Back-and-forth questioning until all relevant points are addressed
  7. Closing Statements:
    HR Representative/Manager summarises the case and emphasises the need for disciplinary action if applicable
    Employee summarises defense and expresses any additional points
  8. Deliberation:
    Panel leaves the room to deliberate
    Deliberation period
  9. Decision:
    The chairperson announces the decision: Disciplinary action, warning, or no action
    Reasons for the decision explained
  10. Follow-Up Actions
    Explanation of any follow-up actions or next steps: Probationary period, additional training or termination
  11. Adjournment
    The chairperson thanks participants for their participation and meeting is adjourned

Disciplinary Outcome Letter

[Your Company Letterhead]


[Employee’s Name] [Employee’s Address]

Dear [Employee’s Name],

Re: Disciplinary Outcome

Following the disciplinary hearing held on [Date], we have carefully considered the allegations presented against you and your response during the hearing. This letter communicates the outcome of the disciplinary process.

After thorough deliberation, it has been decided that [provide the disciplinary outcome, such as one of the following]:

  1. [Employee’s Name] will be [terminated from employment/subject to probation/required to undergo additional training], effective [Date].
  2. [Employee’s Name] is issued a formal written warning, and any recurrence of similar behaviour may result in further disciplinary action.
  3. No further action will be taken, but [Employee’s Name] is reminded to adhere strictly to company policies moving forward.

The decision was based on [explain the key factors or evidence considered during deliberation]. We expect that this outcome will clearly indicate the importance of maintaining a professional and respectful workplace environment.

If applicable, please be advised that [outline any specific conditions or expectations for improvement, e.g., attending training sessions, demonstrating improved behaviour, etc.].

Should you have any questions or require clarification regarding this decision, please do not hesitate to contact [HR Representative/Manager’s Name] at [HR Representative/Manager’s Email] or [HR Representative/Manager’s Phone Number].

We trust that you will take the necessary steps to ensure a positive and productive work environment for yourself and your colleagues moving forward.


[Your Name]

[Your Title]

[Company Name]

Tips for Carrying Out Effective Disciplinary Action

  • Be clear about what constitutes misconduct – prevention is better than cure.
  • Keep meticulous records – including from the disciplinary meeting, nominate a note taker if necessary.
  • Verbal warnings aren’t always verbal warnings – formal verbal warnings must be delivered in writing.
  • Keep it confidential.
  • Act quickly.
  • Be calm and objective – and if you feel you are unable, ask a third party for help.

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Jessie is an experienced content creator and copywriter specialising in technology and telecommunications. She comes to the HR technology space keen to exercise a passion for people and the human resources industry.

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