Employers would be well-advised to have clear disciplinary rules and procedures. In many cases it will be clear that an employee can be dismissed for the conduct in question - for example theft, fraud or fighting. However, what about matters such as excessive use of the internet, making personal phone calls, writing references when not authorised to do so, letting friends make use of your benefits such as, say, free gym membership. Would it be clear to most employees that such conduct was not permitted let alone potentially subject to disciplinary action including dismissal? Employment Tribunals may often say not. Therefore it is essential that employers make it clear in writing that employees are aware what conduct can lead to disciplinary action.
Except in cases of gross misconduct it is usually unfair to dismiss an employee for a first offence. However, this rule will often not apply if the employee has already been given previous warnings. A mistake many employers make is that they do not give employees warnings for relatively minor incidents of misconduct. They then dismiss an employee for misconduct, which falls short of gross misconduct, and hence the dismissal is unfair. It is thus essential that employers both have clear procedures and rules regarding warnings and that they are sure that employees are familiar with them and that they are willing to issue warnings as and when appropriate.
Even in cases of gross misconduct a dismissal will usually be unfair if the employer has not applied a fair disciplinary procedure. The requirements of such a process will often vary depending on the case.
In summary detailed assistance and guidance in respect of disciplinary procedures and their application is essential.