Disciplinary procedure: step by step

Step 5: Deciding on the disciplinary outcome

After following a fair disciplinary procedure, the employer should decide on the best outcome based on:

  • the findings from the investigation and meetings
  • what is fair and reasonable
  • what their workplace has done in any similar cases before

Each workplace might have its own versions of disciplinary outcomes. They should be written in your workplace’s disciplinary policy or guidelines.

For a disciplinary outcome that's not a dismissal, it's a good idea for the employer to give the employee specific goals and timeframes for improvements.

Telling the employee

The employer should tell the employee of the outcome as soon as possible and in writing.

If the employee's conduct or performance has not improved in the timeframe set, the employer should repeat the disciplinary procedure until improvements are made or until dismissal is the only fair and reasonable option.

When no action is needed

When it’s decided there was no misconduct or performance issue, the employer should end the disciplinary procedure.

To make sure there is no bad feeling, the employer should talk privately with the employee and any other staff who knew the disciplinary procedure was happening. 

They should make clear there is no longer anything to worry about and should help the employee get back to work as normal.

It’s a good idea for the employer to keep a note of how they carried out the procedure for future reference.

Informal warning

If the misconduct or performance issue was found to be small and not serious, the employer might just have an informal talk with the employee. Your workplace might call it a ‘verbal warning’. 

It’s a good idea for the employer to still keep a confidential written record of informal or verbal warnings for future reference.

    Written warnings

    A written warning is a formal warning that the employer can give the employee at the end of the disciplinary procedure.

    A first or final written warning should say:

    • what the misconduct or performance issue is
    • the changes needed, with a timescale
    • what could happen if the changes are not made
    • what could happen if there is further misconduct or no improvement to performance
    • how long the warning will stay in place
    • in performance cases, any support or training the employer will provide

    First written warning

    A first written warning is normally the first step an employer will take when misconduct or poor performance is confirmed.

    Final written warning

    The employer can give a final written warning if, within a set timeframe, the employee either:

    • repeats or commits another misconduct 
    • does not improve performance

    In cases of serious misconduct or poor performance, the employer does not have to give a first written warning and can instead go straight to a final written warning. For example, where the employee’s actions have, or could, cause serious harm to the business.

    If an employee does not meet the requirements of their final written warning in the timeframe set, it could lead to dismissal. The employer should make this clear to the employee.

    Taking other disciplinary action

    The employer might look at other disciplinary action depending on the seriousness of the misconduct or performance issue.

    For example, instead of dismissal, the employer could decide to move the employee to a less responsible role (‘demotion’). 

    Employers must first check what the employment contract allows and discuss it fully with the employee. The employee can have their chosen companion or representative with them for this.

    For more detailed advice on other disciplinary actions, see Discipline and grievances at work: The Acas guide.

    Dismissal

    The employer might end the employee’s contract (‘dismissal’) in either of these cases:

    • gross misconduct
    • the disciplinary procedure has had to be repeated and the employee previously had a final written warning

    Dismissal should only be decided by a manager who has the authority to do so. You can check your workplace’s policy on this.

    The employee should be told as soon as possible:

    • the reasons for the dismissal
    • the date the employment contract will end
    • the notice period
    • their right of appeal

    Find out more on ending employment.

    To avoid the risk of an ‘unfair dismissal’ claim, the employer should always follow a full and fair disciplinary procedure before deciding on dismissal.

    The employee’s right of appeal

    The employer should offer the employee the right of appeal.

    This is so the employee can raise an appeal if they feel:

    • the outcome is too severe
    • any stage of the disciplinary procedure was wrong or unfair

    Find out more about raising an appeal.