Following on from Part 1 in the Getting it Right series, this blog discusses the disciplinary meeting.
If you have not already done so, check your employment agreement and policy/house rules to see if there are any contractual or policy procedures that you need to ensure you adhere to. Your process should follow any documented steps in either your employment agreement or policy/house rules.
When you come to the disciplinary meeting bring with you copies of the letter and all the evidence that you have provided the employee with so that you can refer to this if necessary.
The purpose of the disciplinary meeting is NOT for you to prove the employee has done wrong. The purpose of the disciplinary meeting is for the employee to tell you their version of events so that you can make a balanced and informed decision as to whether the employee has or has not done wrong.
Your focus during the interview is to gather as much information from the employee as to what they have or have not done so that you then assess that information when making a decision. It is important that you do not introduce new information at the meeting, as the employee is entitled to know everything you have on hand that may be taken into consideration when you make your decision. If new information comes to light before the meeting, by all means present this to the employee if you are going to take it into consideration. This may mean you need to delay the meeting to allow the employee a reasonable opportunity to consider that new information.
At the meeting, ensure the venue you have chosen offers privacy and confidentiality. Other people do not need to know about the meeting and/or see or hear what you are talking about.
If the employee exercises their right to have a support person and/or representative present, introduce yourself and also provide them a safety briefing before getting into the meeting. Ensure that you inform the support person/representative that although you predominantly wish to hear from your employee, they too are entitled to speak and anything they do say will be taken as part of the employee's response.
You need to come into the meeting with an open mind as to what has occurred. Even though you have raised your concerns and have given, in the invite letter, an indication of what outcome may arise from the meeting, you must be prepared to listen to and genuinely consider the employee's response. There are always three sides to any situation. What you understand has occurred, what the employee believes has occurred, and what has more likely than not occurred. The purpose of the meeting is to determine what has more likely than not occurred after considering the employee's response.
Because the purpose of the disciplinary meeting is to hear the employee's account of what has happened, it is important to give the employee every opportunity to respond to the concerns and the evidence provided.
While it is appropriate to ask the occasional closed question, you should aim to ask more open-ended questions without leading the employee one way or the other.
Ask your employee to explain what their response is to the concerns you have put to them and also to comment on any evidence you have provided them. Listen to what the employee is saying and ask questions to clarify what you hear. For example, if the employee says, "Everyone does this..." ask them "Who specifically is everyone?" Don't assume you know who "everyone" is. Get the employee to be specific with names and dates. If they, "I was told by someone it was okay to this" it would be appropriate to ask follow-up questions such as, "Who told you that it was okay?" "What specifically did they say that led you to believe it was okay?" and "When did they tell you this?"
Try to avoid getting into a debate. You don't want to be seen to have already made up your mind as to what has happened by defending a particular position. Remember, the meeting is the employee's opportunity to explain what has occurred from their perspective. By all means be curious about what the evidence is suggesting and also about what the employee is saying. This will help you get as much information as possible to help you make a balanced and well-informed decision on what to do next.
Ensure that your questions and the employee's response are relevant to the concerns you have raised and the evidence you have provided. DO NOT introduce new matters during the meeting. If there are new issues that arise, advise the employee that you will need to address those, however you will arrange a separate meeting, if it is required, once you have assessed the substance and relevance of the new information.
Once the employee has responded to your concerns and answered any questions you raised, before closing the meeting ask the employee if there is anything else they believe you should take into consideration. You should also ask their support person/advocate if there is anything they would like to add.
At the end of the meeting, thank the employee (and their support person/advocate if present) for attending. DO NOT deliver any decision at this time. Advise the employee you will take some time to consider their response, and depending on what they have said, be prepared to do further investigation before making any decision.
In general, you want to give yourself at least 24 hours to consider the employee's response before making a decision on what, if any, action is appropriate. If you have to conduct further enquires after considering the employee's response, you should advise the employee that you will be making further enquiries and that the employee will be given an opportunity to comment on the outcome of those enquires before a final decision is made.
Remember, any statements or evidence gathered from those additional enquiries that are going to be relied upon in your decision making must be provided to the employee for their comment before you make your decision. This will require a second follow-up meeting. Do not shortcut the process and go straight to a decision without letting the employee comment on new information you have gathered. While going back to the employee for their comment will extend the timeframe for resolving your concerns, it is better for all parties to take that time and follow the process correctly rather than have to deal with protracted and potentially costly personal grievance.
Whatever decision you reach after concluding the disciplinary meetings, needs to be appropriate for the circumstances and consistent with what you indicated to the employee at the start of the process.
Note: This blog contains generic guidance on conducting the disciplinary meeting. For specific advice, relevant to your circumstances, contact McKone Consultancy