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Employers Must be Consistent when Disciplining Employees

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Employers can start formal disciplinary action against employees if they have concerns about their conduct at work. Often though, issues are raised informally with an employee before this happens.

Whether problems are raised formally according to a structured process or they are raised informally, a degree of judgement is usually required on behalf of the employer. In either circumstance this can leave room for inconsistencies to creep in which is an issue employers must remain vigilant of.

Even the most experienced and heavily scrutinised employers can get this wrong from time to time, as the BBC demonstrated with its sacking of DJ David Lowe in May 2014.

Disciplining Staff - How Not to Do It

In May 2014 local BBC Radio Devon DJ David Lowe lost his job at the corporation for playing a nursery rhyme containing a racist word. The 1932 version of The Sun Has Got His Hat On containing the offensive term was later changed to omit the phrase but the DJ claimed that he had made an “innocent mistake” when he played the older version on the radio.

After a listener complained about the incident, Mr Lowe offered to issue a live on-air apology or to ‘fall on his sword’. Managers at the BBC declined the first option in favour of the latter and Mr Lowe gave up his freelance position.

The public nature of Mr Lowe’s sacking brought widespread condemnation of the BBC for what the DJ described as, "... a silly mistake, my first error in more than 30 years of broadcasting. I am deeply embarrassed by it."

But the heavy handed treatment was not the only reason for the outcry. Only days earlier, well known BBC and Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson had been forced to apologise for using a racist term in an outtake from the popular TV series. The fact that the BBC had received complaints about offensive behaviour from Mr Clarkson on previous occasions fuelled the perception of inconsistency.

Maintaining Consistency in Disciplinary Proceedings

Most employers will not be under the same degree of scrutiny as the BBC when it comes to disciplining errant employees but it is still essential that they maintain consistency in their treatment of employees. The first step towards achieving this is to have a formal disciplinary policy and procedure in place.

There is no legal requirement for disciplinary policies but the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) provides a code of conduct that employers are advised to adopt. At the core of the ACAS code is the principle that issues are dealt with fairly and one of the key components of this is that employers and employees should act consistently.

For specialist employment advice please contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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