New research exploring the volunteering experiences and perspectives of people from the global majority. Find out more
Use this page to understand your responsibilities when handling matters of misconduct. If you’re planning to take disciplinary action, you should also consider taking advice from a human resources (HR) professional or employment lawyer.
If you’re dealing with a matter of poor performance, read our guidance on managing underperformance instead.
For guidance on handling misconduct for employees in their probationary period, see our induction and probation page.
Every organisation should have a disciplinary procedure – it helps you set out expectations to employees, and act fairly and consistently when addressing misconduct.
Your procedure should set out the steps below, making it clear how they work in practice at your organisation and who to involve at each stage.
NCVO members can also download our editable sample disciplinary procedure.
It’s best to handle minor conduct matters (eg lateness) informally initially, by discussing the problem and clearly explaining the standards you expect employees to meet. This can often resolve matters quickly, without the need to take formal action.
For guidance on having difficult conversations, see the Acas guide to having challenging conversations.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to address and resolve misconduct informally.
Some matters need to be handled formally – for example:
On these occasions, you should follow the steps below.
First, you’ll need to investigate the alleged misconduct – fairly and impartially.
Where practicable, different people should carry out the investigation and any subsequent disciplinary hearing. If necessary, you may also need to suspend the employee for a short period of time while you conduct the investigation.
As part of the investigation, the person investigating the matter will need to interview:
They should also review any documents relevant to the matter.
When conducting these interviews, the investigator should:
The information gathered for the investigation should be pulled into a factual report summarising the investigation, with any interview notes and relevant documents attached as appendices.
If the investigation concludes there’s a case to answer, you’ll need to conduct a formal disciplinary hearing. You should follow the steps in your organisation's disciplinary procedure – but you can use the eight steps below as a guide.
In advance of the hearing, you should share a letter with the employee that:
The hearing should be chaired by someone other than the person who conducted the investigation.
The meetings may not proceed in neat, orderly stages but it’s good practice to:
State precisely what the complaint is and outline the case briefly by going through the evidence you’ve gathered. Ensure the employee and their representative or accompanying person are allowed to see any statements made by witnesses and question them.
Give the employee the opportunity to state their case and answer any allegations.
They should be able to:
The employee’s companion may also ask questions and should be able to confer privately with the employee. However, the companion cannot answer questions on the employee’s behalf.
Listen carefully and be prepared to wait for an answer. This can be a constructive way of encouraging the employee to be more forthcoming.
Use this stage to establish all the facts. Ask the employee if they can explain the alleged misconduct, or if there are any special circumstances you need to take into account.
Bring the proceedings to a close if it becomes clear during this or any other stage that the employee has provided an adequate explanation or there is no real evidence to support the allegation.
Keep the approach formal and polite and encourage the employee to speak freely, with a view to establishing the facts.
A properly conducted disciplinary meeting should be a two-way process. Use questions to clarify the issues and to check that what has been said is understood.
Ask open-ended questions, for example, ‘what happened then?’ to get the broad picture. Ask precise, closed questions requiring a yes/no answer only when specific information is needed.
Don’t get involved in arguments and don’t make personal or humiliating remarks. Do not give your opinion on the matter at this stage. Avoid physical contact or gestures that could be misinterpreted or misconstrued as judgemental.
If new facts emerge, it may be necessary to adjourn the meeting to investigate them and reconvene the meeting when this has been done.
Once you’ve established the facts, asked relevant questions, and given the employee the opportunity to respond, summarise the main points of the discussion. This helps remind everyone of the main points of discussion and ensure nothing is missed.
At this stage, ask the employee if they have anything further to add.
Adjourn about the meeting before deciding whether a disciplinary penalty is appropriate. This allows time for reflection and proper consideration.
It also allows time for further investigation (if needed) , particularly if there’s any dispute over facts.
Based on everything shared during the investigation and hearing, you should first decide whether the case against the employee is proven. You must consider whether there was a thorough and reasonable investigation that allows you to come to a decision based on sound evidence or balance of probability.
You should then consider:
Once you’ve come to a decision, you have two options.
The employee must be given the right to appeal if you’ve given a formal warning or notice of dismissal.
If matters don’t resolve following earlier warnings, or if the employee has committed an act of ‘gross misconduct’, the outcome of your disciplinary hearing may be dismissal.
Acas has more guidance for employers on dismissing someone fairly.
Before dismissing an employee, it’s important to seek HR or legal advice. For initial advice, you can call the Acas helpline.
Last reviewed: 01 August 2022Help us improve this content
Charity Interns founder Maya Bhose shares how this innovative new programme is bringing new talent into the voluntary sector
New Charity Interns project will be hosted by NCVO and offer paid internships to people aged over 50
To mark National Apprenticeship Week 2023, Noama Chaudhry shares insights from her apprenticeship at NCVO and offers advice for the wider sector
As part of our Road Ahead series, we explore the issues affecting the people at the heart of our organisations
The voluntary sector needs to lead the way on flexible working and advertise all roles as flexible, with employers encouraging open conversations about how it can work in their organisation.
A new working group to look at the issue of flexible working in the charity sector is being launched by membership bodies NCVO and ACEVO with support from Starfish Search, an executive search firm
Get regular updates on NCVO's help, support and services