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Disciplinary Procedure

The purpose of this Policy is to provide a formal way for the Service to manage unacceptable or improper conduct.
Category: 
Service Policies and Procedures
Reading Time: 12 minutes

1.0 Strategy

West Midlands Fire Service requires appropriate standards of discipline from its employees, together with satisfactory standards of work. These standards are outlined in our Core Values, Code of Conduct and other Service policies.  It is important that all employees are aware of these policies and the expectations the Service has on our employees.  Managers and the employees are encouraged to work together to support the appropriate levels of conduct and behaviours by ensuring that regular discussions are taking place outlining expectations and any support and development that is required.

2.0 Purpose

The purpose of this Policy is to provide a formal way for the Service to manage unacceptable or improper conduct.  It will provide an approach that is fair, consistent and should be undertaken in a timely manner.   

​​​​​​​This Policy applies to all employees within the West Midlands Fire Service.

3.0 Responsibility

Responsibilities are detailed within this document.

4.0 Procedures

This policy sets out to confirm the process the Service will take should an employee’s conduct fall short of expected standards and to confirm the options and possible sanctions where there is a shortfall in behaviour and conduct.

​​​​​​​Before starting a disciplinary procedure, the Line Manager should first consider if the issue can be resolved in an informal way.  This can often be the quickest and best approach to manage minor issues.  If the misconduct was more serious then managers are required to act in a fair and transparent manner which is clearly outlined in this policy.

4.1 Timelines

At all levels of this policy it is important the managers and employees raise and deal with issues promptly and should not unreasonably delay meeting s or the process.  During formal stages the employee should be kept updated on the progress of the investigation, hearing or outcome and the expected timeframes for completion.  If this change, then the reason for the delay and the new timeframe updated on the Terms of Reference and this will be shared with the employee under investigation.

4.2 Resolving issues informally

The Service is committed to resolving issues of conduct and behaviour promptly and appropriately and encourages the use of informal resolution where possible. If the employee requires any support to help their well-being, a referral to OH would be beneficial.

​​​​​​​Managers are required to have early conversations and provide feedback to manage these issues informally. An informal discussion is often all that is required to improve an employee’s conduct or performance. In some cases, additional training, coaching and advice may be what is needed. Details on how this should be done can be found in the toolkit (Appendix 1). Disciplinary Toolkit

4.3 Informal advice, coaching or guidance

Where possible, the organisation will first try to resolve disciplinary issues informally. This may include having informal, private conversations with the employees involved. Listening to the employees viewpoint and agreeing improvements to be made and development as appropriate, this may include some form of awareness training. In these circumstances, the line manager will ensure that the conversation is documented in a development plan and this recorded on the PRF. If allegations are around behaviours between employees and there may be a misunderstanding, the manager may offer mediation. Any information relating to mediation will be found in the toolkit (Appendix 1).

Informal advice, coaching or guidance is not part of the formal disciplinary procedure and therefore there is no statutory right to be accompanied.

There will be cases where the allegation or complaint is serious and formal disciplinary procedures are the appropriate course of action.

4.3.1 Managers are responsible for clarifying standards of behaviour and dealing with minor shortcomings informally. Where appropriate this may be achieved by giving informal advice, coaching and counselling. (as outlined above 4.3)

4.3.2 The purpose of the informal meeting is to allow the manager and the employee to discuss the issue or problem on a one-to-one basis so that the manager can encourage and help the employee to improve outside of the formal process outlined below.

4.3.3 At the end of the informal meeting the manager will check that the employee understands what needs to be done, how it will be reviewed and over what period of time. They will set a review date to re-assess the situation. The manager should advise the employee that if there is no improvement then the formal procedure may be initiated. The required improvement and timescale will be recorded as part of the development plan.

4.3.4 On the review date, if the issue has improved as agreed, it is important that this is acknowledged by the manager and that they ensure that any temporary arrangements put in place to engender this improvement are also reviewed to decide their continued relevance.

4.35 This informal process does not constitute formal disciplinary action under this procedure.

​​​​​​​4.3.6 If the informal stage does not bring about an improvement and the behaviours do not improve, or the misconduct is considered to be too serious to be dealt with informally, managers should instigate formal disciplinary action.

4.4. Formal Process of Disciplinary

If the Line Manager has attempted to resolve the issue previously using the informal process or the employee’s behaviour or conduct is too serious for informal resolution, then a formal disciplinary procedure will need to start, and the employee should be informed straight away.  This notification will be in writing and will provide sufficient information about the allegation and possible consequences.  An employee will also be given sufficient notice and be informed of their rights in relation to being accompanied throughout the investigation until the appeals process has been concluded. Once everyone is clear of their roles throughout this process, the formal investigation interviews will start.

4.4.1 What is Misconduct?

Misconduct is when an employee's inappropriate behaviour is not in line with Service policy. Some examples of what may constitute misconduct includes:

  • Ongoing concerns relating to conduct that does not improve following informal resolution
  • Insubordination
  • Breach of service policy which is not serious enough to be covered in gross misconduct and therefore does not irreparably damage the employment relationship.

4.4.2 What is Gross Misconduct?

Gross misconduct is generally seen as misconduct serious enough to overturn the contract of employment.   Gross misconduct could lead to dismissal or dismissal without notice. To reach the threshold of Gross misconduct at a hearing there is an acceptance that the employment relationship being irreparably damaged.

 Examples of gross misconduct may include:

  • theft or fraud
  • physical violence or bullying
  • deliberate and serious damage to property
  • serious misuse of our Brigade’s property or name
  • deliberately accessing internet sites containing pornographic, offensive or obscene material
  • serious insubordination
  • unlawful discrimination or harassment
  • bringing the Brigade into serious disrepute
  • serious incapability at work brought on by alcohol or illegal drugs
  • causing loss, damage or injury through serious negligence
  • serious breach of health and safety rules
  • a serious breach of confidence.

4.4.3. Trade union officials/representatives

Service disciplinary standards apply to Trade Unions Officials and representatives.  In the circumstances when disciplinary action is to be taken against Officials and representatives it is important that this is managed in relation to the Employee Relations Framework section 5.5.2. 

4.4.4. Brigade Managers

For discipline issues involving Brigade Managers, the approach is defined within the ​Authority constitution.   For further information and guidance please contact People Support Services (PSS) or the Clerk to the Authority.

4.5. Fair Procedure

It is important during the case that a fair procedure is followed. A fair investigation will support a fair outcome. Managers involved in this procedure should have training in handling these procedures and conducting  a fair investigation/hearing.  Where possible different people will manage different steps of the procedure.

  1. Fact Finding Exercise, this is an informal process which is outlined in the toolkit (Appendix 1);
  1. Disciplinary Investigation, this is a formal process which is outlined in the toolkit (Appendix 1).  Having established the basics facts and a decision being made that an investigation is required.  The Investigation Officers should find out all they reasonably can about the issue.  The purpose of an investigation is to:
  • See if there is a case to answer
  • Make sure everyone is treated fairly
  • Gather evidence from all parties
  • Present the finding through an investigation report to help the commissioning manager determine what should happen next.
  • Inform further and future decision making such as: 
  1. if a formal procedure needs to continue or if the issue can be resolved informally.
  2. Is suspension required/still required? (Details on this will be found in the toolkit (Appendix 1) under suspension)

During the investigation the Commissioning Officer will manage the progress and ensure the investigation is conducted in a timely manner and that the relevant level has not changed.  If there are delays in the investigation the Employee under investigation will be informed as to why and the anticipated new timescales.

On conclusion on the investigation the Commissioning Manager will consider if there is a case to answer and if this can be managed informally or if a Disciplinary hearing is required.

  1. Disciplinary hearing -  further guidance in toolkit (Appendix 1);
  1. Appeal Hearing – further guidance is in toolkit (Appendix 1);
  1. Debrief -  See section 4.12.

Where the manager who would normally deal with the issue cannot be available, or, there may be a conflict of interest, another manager, at the same or more senior level, will be appointed to deal with the case

The roles and responsibilities of individuals involved in any parts of the Disciplinary process can be found in the toolkit (Appendix 1) under roles and responsibilities. Disciplinary Toolkit

4.5.1 Use of external Investigator

Our policies outline the need for a fair investigation that is balanced and factual, which will, in turn, support a fair outcome. The investigating officer will be responsible for undertaking a fair and balanced investigation and producing the report for the commissioning manager. In some cases, as outlined in Appendix 2, the Service may consider that an independent/external investigator is commissioned to undertake the investigation

4.6. Right to be Accompanied

Employees have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official or representative of their choice, who is certified by their union in this role or a fellow colleague at all formal stages of the procedure. No reasonable request for representation or to be accompanied by a companion would be refused at the informal stages of the procedure.

The Service will ensure that disabilities are catered for at any meeting or hearing, including catering for a representative or companion's disability.

The representative or fellow colleague can also confer with the employee during the meeting or hearing and participate as fully as possible, including asking witnesses questions. The representative or companion has no right to answer questions on the employee's behalf, or to address the hearing if the employee does not wish it, or to prevent the employer from explaining their case.

​​​​​​​In some cases, it may be appropriate to suspend an employee from the workplace while an investigation or preparation for a disciplinary hearing takes place.  Suspension should usually only be considered if there is a serious allegation of misconduct.

Suspension should normally only be used where:

  • an employee may represent a threat or a danger to themselves or others;
  • there is a risk that an individual might interfere with or compromise any investigation;
  • there is a concern that further misconduct or offences might occur that are of a serious nature; or
  • criminal charges have been brought against the employee and there is evidence of suspected criminal activity, which is connected with or may affect the employee's performance or suitability for continued employment.

A SET member (or equivalent) will make the decision whether an employee will be suspended from normal duties, having fully considered all the information available at the time, with a clear consideration of the actual risks.

If an employee is to be suspended they must be informed of the reasons for the suspension, that suspension is a neutral act and not disciplinary action, and that they will be expected to maintain their availability to attend meetings or hearings related to the process. It is also appropriate at this stage to discuss any conditions, which will apply during the period of suspension, for example communications channels, availability to attend meetings, facilities to meet with their representative.

Suspensions should be reviewed on a regular basis.

4.7. Disciplinary Hearing

Where it is considered there is a disciplinary case to answer, the Commissioning Officer shall advise the employee of this fact and a hearing will be held as soon as possible.

They employee will be advised:

  • They are required to attend a disciplinary hearing at a specified place and time, where possible the hearing should be concluded within a day.  However, the overriding factor should be appropriate time and consideration of the facts.
  • Details of the allegations that have been made against them, including a copy of the Investigating Officer's report.
  • There is a statutory right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative. Where the person accompanying the employee is unavailable the hearing may be postponed by no more than 5 working days.

The employee should be given a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the hearing, this would be at least five working days. The Investigating Officer and the employee responding to any allegation must make available to the other party, in reasonable time, prior to the hearing any papers that are to be relied upon during the disciplinary hearing. People Support Services will set a date by which all relevant papers should be exchanged.

If an employee does not attend the disciplinary hearing, without good reason, a decision may be taken in their absence. Where the employee continues to be unavailable to attend a meeting the employer may conclude that a decision will need to be made on the evidence available. The employee should be informed where this is to be the case.

4.8 Levels of Disciplinary Action

Disciplinary action will only be taken following investigation and a disciplinary hearing, unless otherwise specified disciplinary warnings will remain 'live' for the periods set out below. After the expiry of that period, subject to the employee having committed no further disciplinary offence, the letter will remain on the employee's Personal Record file but will not normally be considered on any subsequent disciplinary decisions

Levels of formal disciplinary action are as follows, all template letters can be found in the toolkit (Appendix 1):

  • Written warning for the duration of 6 months
  • Final written warning for the duration of up to 18 months
  • Dismissal with notice
  • Dismissal without notice (used only in cases of gross misconduct).

In cases of gross misconduct, the Hearing Manager may decide to dismiss even though the employee has not previously received a warning for misconduct, this all depends on what has come out through the investigation. If the level of conduct is severe then the outcome can be dismissal.

The Presiding Officer may issue a sanction that is less than dismissal, as an alternative to dismissal.  You will find some examples of gross misconduct, which may be grounds for dismissal without notice, listed in the toolkit (Appendix 1).

4.8.1  Alternative/additional Actions:

Demotion - either within role or of no more than one role, a demotion of more than one role can only be applied with the specific consent of the employee. If the employee refuses to accept the sanction and commence in the new role, then the outcome will revert to dismissal;

Disciplinary transfer to another location i.e a disciplinary transfer to another place of work (station).

Where a pattern of re-offending after expiry of previous warnings occurs then that pattern may be considered by a presiding officer in determining a currency beyond the standard period when issuing a subsequent warning.Disciplinary Toolkit

4.9. Communicating the Outcome

Where practicably possible, the employee will be verbally informed of the outcome on the day of the hearing once the adjournment has concluded. Following the hearing, the decision will be confirmed in writing, within seven days. The decision will include a description of the nature of the issue, any required remedial action, and the timescale for improvement. The letter will include the appeals process.

4.10. Notification of outcome of hearing and/or appeal hearing

In every case where disciplinary action is taken, the employee will be informed of the outcome. The decision will normally be indicated verbally to the employee at the end of the hearing and will normally be confirmed in writing within 7 working days of the hearing.

The employee will be informed of:

  • The disciplinary action taken including the level of any warning given.
  • The reason(s) why the disciplinary action was taken.
  • Consequences of any further failure to adhere to acceptable standards of conduct.  In cases where a final written warning is given it should be made clear that further formal disciplinary action may result in dismissal.
  • The time period within which the warning given will be considered to have lapsed from the record of the employee.  The fact that a record of warnings will be kept.

The management should also consider a referral to OH if this is required as part of the outcome, especially if the employee has received support throughout the investigation, it will be advised they may wish to continue.

The right of appeal, advising that any appeal should be submitted in writing to the Business Partner within five working days of receipt of the decision letter, and the right to representation at any future appeal hearing.

4.11.Appeal Procedure

Where an employee is notified of a disciplinary decision against them, they will also be notified of the right of appeal. The Appeal Hearing Manager will have had no involvement in the specific disciplinary process. To understand the process of an appeal can be found in the disciplinary toolkit (Appendix 1).

Once the appeal has concluded, this is the end to our internal process. ​​​​​​​

4.12. Debriefing Process

The organisation is committed to establishing an effective and constructive approach to facilitate organisational learning and improvement by capturing key learning from our day to day activities within dispute resolution.  The feedback that is received from this process will be used to inform and improve the systems and processes that we have in place.  This process is suitable for any informal or formal internal and external resolution processes including litigation.  However, it is important to note that the internal process may continue prior to the conclusion of any external intervention. The debrief form is available on MESH and in the Toolkit (Appendix 1).Disciplinary Toolkit

4.13. Disciplinary Toolkit (Appendix 1)

Both the employee and the line manager can find all the relevant information, documentation, process, relevant policies, and guidance within the disciplinary toolkit (Appendix 1) Disciplinary Toolkit

4.14. Training/Development and Competence

Good training of managers helps to assist positive outcomes.  Managers at all levels, People Support Services Business Partners and Trade Unions who are responsible for the implementation of the disciplinary rules and procedure will be responsible for being trained for the task.  The Service will be responsible for providing the appropriate resources to enable this.  Where possible any training should be joint training -  with everyone having the same understanding and opportunity to work through the procedure including conducting a fair investigation and hearing.

Appendices

Appendix 1 - Disciplinary Toolkit

You can view the Disciplinary Toolkit document, which is a PowerPoint presentation, provided to our staff on this Disciplinary Tool Link

Appendix 2 - Framework for the use of External resource for discipline and grievance investigations.

Framework Document

Document Control and Audit

Audit
Responsible SET Member People 

Authorised by
Sarah Warnes

Direct enquiries to
policyofficers@wmfs.net
EIA (Date Completed & Name)Complete date TBC
PIA (Date Completed & Name)Complete date TBC
Review History
Version #DateReviewed By
1.01/8/2017Business Partner, PSS
2.01/7/21Wendy Browning Sampson, PSS & Disciplinary Stakeholder Group
Amendment History

Version #
DateAmended BySection AmendedAmendmentReason for change
2.06/7/2021Wendy Browning Sampson, PSS & Disciplinary Stakeholder GroupThis entire policy has had a full review and re-writeThis policy has been fully amended throughout as should be read in its entirety, special attention should be found in the toolkit (appendix 1) which contains guidance material.In line with scheduled review programme
2.16/9/2021Wendy Browning Sampson, PSSAppendix 2Addition of a Framework for the use of External resource for discipline and grievance investigations.  This is also referenced in section 4.5.1 with further detail.New section
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