The ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance underlines the importance of carrying out necessary investigations of potential disciplinary matters “without unreasonable delay” to establish the facts of the case. It goes on to state that in some cases this will require the holding of an investigatory meeting with the employee before proceeding to any disciplinary hearing, however in other cases the investigatory stage will be the “collation of evidence by the employer for use at any disciplinary hearing”.
As such an employer has a choice whether to convene an investigatory meeting with the employee. This will depend upon the circumstances. The most important is that in order for a dismissal to be fair, an employer must act reasonably in all the circumstances.
Of course the employer may have a disciplinary policy which makes reference to investigatory meetings and a departure from this would need to be explained and justified.
Sometimes the evidence is overwhelming and it is manifestly obvious, without the need for an investigatory meeting, as to what the disciplinary offences that need to be addressed at a disciplinary hearing will be.
Equally, there are many occasions when it is prudent to undertake an investigatory meeting before deciding whether to proceed to a disciplinary hearing. This is especially the case where for example allegations boil down to one person’s word against another and/or the charges are particularly serious, potentially career threatening and suchlike.
An employee must of course always know what allegations they are facing in advance of a disciplinary hearing and have full disclosure of evidence to be relied upon. An employee should always be offered a right of appeal giving a second opportunity to explain their case.
The recent Judgment from the Employment Appeal Tribunal of Sunshine Hotel Limited and Mr Goddard reinforces these long held best practices and the principle that an employer merely needs to have “carried out as much investigation in the matter as was reasonable in all the circumstances of the case” in order for a dismissal to be fair. This, by its definition, does not require that an investigatory meeting is held on every occasion.