In February 2019, Acas made changes to its guide on discipline and grievances, which complements the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. The guide provides detailed advice on dealing with disciplinary and grievance situations that employers commonly face.Continue reading
In cases of alleged misconduct by one of your employees, in order to ensure that any dismissal is fair, you should investigate the matter to determine whether or not disciplinary action is necessary. The fairness of the dismissal depends on whether or not there is a fair reason for dismissal and, in the circumstances, whether or not you, as the employer, acted reasonably in treating it as a sufficient reason for dismissal. How you investigate the matter will be relevant to whether or not you acted reasonably.
In some cases, it may be appropriate for you to suspend an employee from work pending the completion of the investigation. However, given the serious implications of suspension for an employee, including for his or her morale and professional reputation, you must ensure that the circumstances of the case justify it, and that it is necessary to ensure a fair investigation. Suspension will not be necessary in every case.
The Acas code of Practice
The Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures provides practical guidance on dealing with disciplinary and grievance issues in the workplace. The code states that employers should pay a suspended employee during the period of suspension, keep the suspension as brief as possible and keep the suspension under review. You should make clear that the suspension is not disciplinary action in itself.
The non-statutory guidance that accompanies the code says that suspension may be necessary, for example:
- where relationships have broken down
- in cases of gross misconduct
- where there is a risk to an employee or company property, or responsibilities to other parties, or
- in exceptional cases, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that evidence has been tampered with or destroyed, or witnesses pressurised.
While it is preferable for you to have a contractual right to suspend an employee, where the circumstances justify it, you can still suspend without one. You should ensure that the employee suffers no detriment as a result of its decision to suspend, and as such, the employee should be fully paid and benefit from the same terms and conditions of employment throughout the suspension.
If the contract of employment contains a procedure that applies to the suspension of an employee, you should ensure that you comply with it, as a failure to do so may enable the employee to claim breach of contract, and/or to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.
As an employer, you should not suspend an employee without just cause. It is not appropriate to suspend simply because investigative enquiries are being made, where the particular circumstances don’t require it. If it is necessary to remove the employee from, for example, contact with particular colleagues or clients, you should consider if suspension can be avoided by using a less drastic measure, for example a temporary change to the employee’s duties or department.
Where the circumstances of a case justify suspension, you should advise the employee of the reason for the suspension, how long it is likely to last, and that it is a neutral act that does not indicate guilt. You should make clear to the employee that the suspension is not disciplinary action in itself, and that disciplinary action will not necessarily follow.
You should also aim to keep the suspension and the reason for it confidential, so as not to cause damage to the employee’s reputation, particularly as the investigation will not necessarily result in disciplinary action. Where it is necessary to explain the employee’s absence, you may consider discussing with the employee how he or she would like this to be communicated to clients and colleagues; this may be appropriate particularly if the employee holds a senior position. Where the employee’s colleagues are aware of the suspension and/or the disciplinary issue, for example if they are witnesses or involved in the investigatory process, you should explain that the suspension is a precautionary measure while the matter is being investigated, and that it will not necessarily result in disciplinary action. Employees should be encouraged to treat the matter as confidential. You may wish to provide managers with a statement confirming how to respond to queries relating to the suspended employee’s absence, to ensure that a consistent message is communicated.
Think that you might need to suspend one of your employees? Call me first, before you do anything! We can discuss the situation in complete confidence, to help you make the best decision. Call me now on 0118 940 3032.
Finally we have the decision about the calculation of commission payments.
This well publicised case was brought by Mr Lock, an employee of British Gas. He was paid a basic salary and commission based on the sales he made which represented, on average, over 60% of his take home pay.
British Gas paid holiday pay to Mr Lock based on his basic salary only, plus commission on sales he had earned prior to the holiday period. This resulted, in the weeks and months after the period of leave, in times when Mr Lock only received basic salary and not commission. This was because Mr Lock was not at work during the period of leave, did not make sales and did not generate any commission.
Mr Lock brought a claim against British Gas contending that his holiday pay should be based on basic salary and average commission.
The employment tribunal asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) whether employers should include commission when calculating holiday pay and both decided that Mr Lock should be paid holiday pay including overtime. Since the ECJ we have been awaiting for the employment tribunal to see how to give effect to the ECJ decision.
At the hearing Leicester employment tribunal made it clear that the case was not about whether the commission received by Mr Lock should be included because the ECJ had already decided that it should. The case was about whether the Working Time Regulations could be interpreted to give effect to the ECJ decision.
The employment tribunal concluded that it could by adding wording to the Working Time Regulations which requires employers with workers who have normal working hours but who receive commission or similar payments to calculate holiday pay as if their pay varied with the amount of work done. The effect is to require employers to calculate holiday pay based on an average of the previous 12 weeks’ pay.
The Next Steps
Not all commission payments will qualify and have to be taken into account. You should reconsider how you calculate holiday pay if you operate a similar commission scheme, as you may face a claim for back pay. Legislation was introduced to limit the impact of such claims by restricting back pay for two years for cases on or after 1 July 2015.
This decision relates only to the calculation of four week’s holiday and not the entire current statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks or any enhanced holiday. You should also check any contractual provisions. If you need any help calculating holiday pay for your employees, call us on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email us.
If one of your employees raises a grievance at work, against one of their colleagues, you need to carry out an investigation into the situation, before you make any decisions. How do you go about doing this?
The first thing to consider is that the person against whom the grievance has been raised cannot carry out the investigation. Look for an impartial party to do it, who should decide what information they need in order to fully understand the situation. They should then interview the person who has raised the grievance, before speaking to the other party and anyone else involved. They should produce written evidence and be prepared to look for evidence both supporting the employee and against them.
All people involved should be asked not to discuss the allegation, or look for corroborating evidence or verification of what the employee and other staff are saying. They should also keep an open mind, as what they uncover may not be what anyone expects. For example, someone may be unhappy at work because of a family bereavement they haven’t told anyone about.
The next stage is to respond to the person who raised the grievance, with your decision based on the evidence. It may be appropriate to bring the two people together to discuss the evidence so that they can discuss the situation and plan how to resolve the situation. You must always respond to a formal grievance in writing, with your decision based on your investigation and offer the right of appeal.
The point of carrying out an investigation is so that you do not blunder into a grievance situation, without first finding out what is really going on. If you don’t have your own policy to follow, then use the guidelines published by Acas. As with most employment matters, following a clear process will keep you safe, if an aggrieved member of staff doesn’t like the way in which their grievance has been handled!