LRD Booklets June 2018

Disciplinary and grievance procedures - a guide for union reps

Introduction


[pages 4-5]

This Labour Research Department (LRD) booklet is intended to provide practical advice and support for union reps or members who are facing a disciplinary or considering whether to lodge a grievance. 


The work of union reps in advising and representing members in formal hearings is a vital part of their role, both on an individual and a collective level. 


According to the Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS), discipline and grievance issues are the most common areas where reps spend their time. At an individual level, what happens in internal disciplinary and grievance meetings is generally much more significant, in terms of giving members the best chance to keep their jobs or have their concerns addressed, than what takes place before an employment tribunal. Only a tiny minority of workers’ complaints ever reach a tribunal and of those that do, an even tinier number — just 1% of successful claims — result in reinstatement or re-engagement. 


And, if a member does decide to bring a tribunal claim, the result will be shaped or determined largely by the way in which the disciplinary or grievance proceedings have been conducted — the arguments put, the evidence collected or challenged, and the decisions taken, for example, whether or not to appeal. 


Union reps also play an important wider role, making sure employers follow policies and processes openly, consistently and fairly and highlighting procedural defects that produce unfairness. Fair and effective conflict resolution is as much in the interests of the employer as that of the worker, because management unfairness manifests itself through low morale, increased absence, higher levels of illness, reduced effort, industrial action and the loss of valued staff who may quit their jobs because of it. 


At a collective level, discipline and grievance processes are also important to unions because the visible reassurance and practical support offered by reps to individual members, supported by the specialist resources of the national union where necessary, sends a strong positive message about the benefits of union membership. This, in turn, helps build membership levels at work, strengthening the union voice and making it easier to produce effective collective solutions that benefit everyone in the workplace, without the need for litigation. 


Most trade unions offer their members a legal advice service and any member or rep contemplating taking a legal case should contact their union first. In some unions, tribunal cases will be handled internally at district, regional or even head office level. This booklet does not contain individual legal advice and must not be relied on as such. 


The booklet is divided into the following short Chapters:


• Chapter 1 summarises the key provisions of the Acas Code of Practice on discipline and grievance;


• Chapter 2 is about negotiating disciplinary procedures;


• Chapter 3 concerns the difference between informal and formal procedures;


• Chapter 4 concerns disciplinary investigations, including rules on surveillance evidence and anonymous evidence;


• Chapter 5 looks at suspensions;


• Chapter 6 contains practical guidance on getting ready for a hearing;


• Chapter 7 deals with practical arrangements for the disciplinary hearing and summarises some key arguments available to reps;


• Chapter 8 explains the legal right to be accompanied;


• Chapter 9 looks at disciplinary penalties and possible arguments to use in mitigation;


• Chapter 10 concerns the appeal process;


• Chapter 11 looks at grievance procedures;


• Chapter 12 looks at organising around grievances and disciplinary issues;


• Chapter 13 summarises the joint TUC/Acas guidance for reps on mediation; 


• Chapter 14 looks at discipline and grievance issues in the context of TUPE transfers; and


• Chapter 15 looks at how references can be affected by disciplinary and grievance processes.


The booklet provides relevant examples from tribunal decisions (case law) throughout.