Discipline and Grievance

by Kate Russell

First steps


It is not appropriate to have this type of discussion for a serious breach or matter of gross misconduct.

Informal disciplinary discussion

If an employee is in breach of a relatively minor rule, you should counsel him to improve. The key issue here is to talk to him as soon as a rule or standard has been breached. If you act promptly now, you will probably save time and effort later on. Have one or two informal discussions. If there is no improvement at that point, move to the formal procedure.

How to handle an informal discussion

This is an informal discussion, so there is no need to write in advance or offer a companion. Collect details of the standard you require and recent evidence of the employee’s breach. There’s no point trying to discuss something that happened weeks ago (unless you have only just found out about it). Make sure that you feal with things pretty much as they arise. Hold the meeting in private.

  • Explain that it is an informal discussion and that you have some concerns.
  • Point out the actual performance of the employee and go through the evidence. Giving recent examples of where the employee has not met the standards is helpful.
  • Explain the work standard required.
  • Ask for an explanation.
  • Offer help, support, encouragement and training, as appropriate.
  • Agree an action plan for improvement.
  • Advise of the consequences of failure to meet the required standard: in other words an escalation to the first formal stage of the disciplinary process.
  • Set a timescale and dates for review.
  • Make notes of the conversation. Give a copy of agreed actions to the employee. There is no need to write a formal letter with a copy to HR because this is an informal discussion.

The main differences between an informal and formal discussion

Informal Formal
  • One-to-one– no right to be accompanied
  • No notice of meeting
  • No prior information provided
  • Diary note kept in the supervisor’s file
  • No formal warning, only advice to help employee improve
  • No appeal process
  • No set duration or review period
  • Right to be accompanied offered
  • Advance notice
  • Outline of the reason for meeting
  • Documented confirmation of any warning, copy kept on personal file
  • Disciplinary penalty may be imposed
  • Appeal must be offered
  • Warnings lapse after set time

You can call this conversation ‘counselling’, ‘coaching’, ‘advice’, ‘guidance’ or ‘a chat’, but you should steer away from calling it a warning. If you use the word ‘warning’, there is a risk that you move straight into the realms of the formal with all the formal procedure that accompanies it.

Unless your procedure says otherwise, there is no right to be accompanied in an informal discussion. There are three good practice exceptions.

If the employee is a young person i.e. below the age of 18 it’s sensible to allow someone to accompany them to help them understand and participate in the process. Remember, they will only recently have left school and sometimes find it hard to understand that employers have very different and usually more demanding expectations. Persons under the age of 18 are legally classified as children.

If the employee has a disability or ill health condition that makes it difficult for him to understand or engage with the process, allow someone to help him do so, a disability advocate for example.

Where an employee’s first language is not English you may need to make arrangements to enable him to fully understand and participate.