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. 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.
  • 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.