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Understanding time limits for disciplinary sanctions and the impact they can have

Published 24 October 2022

If a disciplinary allegation is upheld against you it can have serious ramifications – but  for how long?

Your employer’s disciplinary procedure will allow formal action to be taken against you if allegations of wrongdoing are proven.

An employer can impose a disciplinary sanction ranging from an informal warning right up to dismissal. The length of time and the effect that any such sanction will have on you can vary.

The ACAS Code guidance does state that an ‘employee should be told how long the warning will remain current’ [1 cited 24.10.22].

If you commit another disciplinary offence while a warning is still active, it can be taken into consideration and lead to a more severe sanction being imposed.

Typically disciplinary warnings can range from three months to 12 months, but they can be extended in exceptional cases.

Depending on the reason for the disciplinary action, the following steps may be appropriate:

  • A verbal or ‘informal’ warning;
  • A written warning.
  • A final written warning.

A formal disciplinary hearing should take place before any sanction is imposed [2 cited 24.10.22].

Your employer must reasonably decide what appropriate action to take when any allegation is upheld

Dismissal is usually immediate and will take effect the date you are notified of the decision. It can, obviously, impact long-term on your ability to secure a new job.

It will stay on your record as the reason why your contract of employment ended with that particular employer.

Most new employers will ask for references, especially from your most recent employer, before confirming a job offer [3 cited 24.10.22]

Many employers will provide a standard factual reference, which will simply confirm job title and dates of employment.

However, prospective employers in certain sectors e.g. working with vulnerable people or financial organisations may ask your ex employer if you have ever been disciplined.

If you have been dismissed, it is worth checking with your former bosses what type of reference you can expect to receive.

One step short of dismissal is a final written warning, which is issued for serious misconduct. It will usually stay on your record for 12 months.

In cases where gross misconduct is considered proven a final written warning can be an alternative to dismissal [4 cited 24.10.22]

Mitigating factors in your case can mean a final written warning is an appropriate sanction if any allegation is found to amount to gross misconduct.

Mitigation can include a disability that impacted on what occurred, a current physical or mental illness (stress or anxiety), serious personal issues, any remorse you show, your length of service and disciplinary record.

Depending on your employer’s disciplinary policy it can, in cases where gross misconduct allegations are upheld, issue an extended final written warning. For example the warning could stay on your record and expire after 18 months.

A first written warning is normally the first step an employer will take when misconduct or poor performance is confirmed.

The length of time a first written warning will remain on your record will be specified in your employer’s disciplinary policy, but typically it can range from three months to six months.

Once a formal disciplinary warning has expired it should be disregarded and not referred to again in any future disciplinary case, unless in exceptional circumstances [5 cited 24.10.22].

If your misconduct is considered minor e.g. missed deadlines, poor quality work or bad customer service your employer can take an informal approach to deal with the matter.

It is important that you check and understand exactly what an informal warning means and how long it may impact on you.

In some cases an informal warning can mean a letter is placed on your file and the incident will be referred to and taken into account if there is a similar occurrence in future.

Always check your employer’s disciplinary procedure to ensure you are fully aware of the type of sanctions that can be imposed, and how long it will generally be in place.

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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