September 6, 2018

Ten Steps for Chairing Successful Disciplinary Hearings

Chairing disciplinary hearings or listening to formal grievances are activities that take lots of managers out of their comfort zone – even many HR managers dislike this aspect of the role.

Follow these ten tips to take away the pressure and ensure the best outcome for your business and workplace relationships.

1. Prepare for the meeting thoroughly

Prepare thoroughly by reading everything and making notes about what you are going to say. Be that ‘detail’ person even if that’s not your usual style. Try not to read from a pre-prepared script. You will come across either as unconfident and ‘box ticking’ or (worse still) like a judge about to deliver a verdict. Be prepared to spend enough time – if your meeting about a relatively serious situation lasts ten minutes, you’ve gone wrong somewhere.

2. Listen closely and build rapport

A grievance hearing in particular is a listening exercise. Spend some time probing and clarifying, and be prepared to believe the unbelievable until you can investigate. Showing empathy – letting them know you appreciate how they feel as they explain themselves – does not commit you to finding an objective truth in everything they say, but it will certainly help to build rapport and mend or maintain good relationships.

3. Remain open and impartial

Be mindful not to prejudge. ‘Impartial’ is your watchword. Even if a disciplinary situation is really clear cut with agreement from the colleague that they have broken rules, take the time to consider everything. Choose your words with care – opening a meeting by telling someone you’ve convened in order to issue them with a formal warning is the ultimate no-no.

4. Take your time before reaching an outcome

Never given an outcome until after the meeting and a period of reflection, including any necessary investigations you need to undertake. Consider evidence that exonerates as fully as you consider evidence that condemns.

5. Take extensive notes – document, document, document

Good meeting notes are crucial. You never know when you might need to rely on them. It’s extremely hard to take decent notes whilst also chairing a meeting, so take someone trustworthy with you to do this. Make sure the notes are typed up promptly afterwards.

If both parties agree, recordings can be made – a smart phone on the table usually works fine. Bear in mind however that you may need a transcription and these are enormously time-consuming to produce: an industry standard guide is one hour for every fifteen minutes of clear speech – and that’s a professional transcriber dealing with a single person speaking.

6. Be proportionate and consider the long game

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. A reliable and engaged employee who has done something that warrants a formal meeting is still that same valuable member of the team. You want them to stop being late, you don’t want them to resign in wretchedness.

Unless they have fundamentally breached your trust and there’s no way back, you need to consider your future relationship – and that won’t be good if they feel they’ve been ticked off like a naughty child. It’s entirely possible to have a ‘strong word’ with someone while still setting mutual expectations for a positive, professional future.

7. Be consistent with your policy

Consult your disciplinary policy for examples and consider any previous similar situations before deciding on a level of warning. You may feel angry, but be dispassionate and consider the appropriate sanction to achieve the desired effect and demonstrate consistency. Would an informal note of your concern work best? If half your workforce end up on final warnings, the process becomes meaningless.

8. Be prompt and courteous in communicating the outcome

Whatever your decision, show courtesy with a prompt and properly written outcome. Don’t copy and paste chunks of notes into the letter. In the worst examples of this we see the addressee referred to in the third person:

“Dear Jo, We met with Jo Smith to discuss that she was late on four occasions…”

9. Consider support and follow ups

Consider whether any follow up is necessary. Aside from the appeal process, is now a good time to sit down and help colleagues to mend bridges with each other? It can take courage to raise a grievance, so if you’ve not upheld someone’s complaint, you need to handle that sensitively. Even if you do find in their favour, do they need support to get things back on track?

10. Limit gossip through discretion

Workplace gossip is hard to control and can be damaging. Maintain as much confidentiality as you possibly can, and emphasise that confidentiality to anyone else who ‘needs to know’.

Support for Moorepay customers

Moorepay can talk you through all kinds of formal workplace conversations and support you with decision making and written outcomes. Our customers call on our Advice Line service 24/7, while some request additional support for these situations by having a HR Consultant visit and chair the meeting for them. Call the Advice Line on 0845 073 0240 for more information.

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About the author

Audrey Robertson

HR Consultancy & Insurance Manager