Employees avoiding a disciplinary hearing at all costs – what can you do?

Employees are partial to trying to delay inevitable proceedings in a number of ways. The most common being signed off with stress, raising a grievance at the same time, or having a witness who can never attend any scheduled time. 

Whilst it cannot be assumed that every employee has an ulterior motive, sometime coincidence cannot explain repeated unavailability. The matter then turns to a game of chess, as employers will need to act reasonably but also cleverly to insure the matter does not escalate. 

Firstly it is prudent to allow a small number of opportunities to rearrange a meeting before jumping to any conclusions, this is so as to appear fair. Make sure you document every attempt to contact the employee, by letter phone, email, or text. Once a number of failed attempts have been made, it may then be reasonable to make a final meeting date and if the employee fails to attend then the meeting can take place in their absence. Be careful though with people who are on current sick leave. If they have a condition which genuinely means they are unable to attend and this is a longer standing illness you may have to show a little more flexibility here and ascertain a GP letter that states whether they are in fact fit to attend the meeting, if not work itself. 

In relation to unavailable witnesses, if after a number of attempts to rearrange you are still having no luck then you will have reasonable grounds to refuse this use of this witness. Continued unavailability will be a valid, objective reason for you to reject the witness and arrange a further meeting. Remember companions/witnesses can only be a fellow colleague or any trade union official/representative. No family members, HR or legal advisors should be brought instead. If they are you are entitled to reject them. 

The key here is not to ‘knee jerk’ react. Employers must think ahead of the game and look at the long term goal that is trying to be achieved here. Otherwise it could be a costly mistake, even if the employee in question has acted unreasonably. 

Published: 25 Oct 2012

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