One of the fundamental principles of employment law is the requirement on an employer to act reasonably.

When it comes to taking action against employees, whether this be in the form of warnings or dismissal, the procedures have been sent down to help form a framework that would encourage a reasonable decision.

It is always tempting for an employer to short circuit the procedures and make a snap decision on the information available to them. However, by following a proper procedure an employer can ensure that all reasonable steps have been taken to investigate the situation, listen to the employee's position and consider all the evidence before making an objective decision in confidence that it is the right one.

The real question for an employer should always be "how do I know that I have considered everything that is relevant?" If a proper procedure is not followed then there is no way to be sure that something vital hasn't been missed that would change the perspective on the whole matter. This can be vitally important for ensuring that there isn't some underlying discrimination issue that cannot be appreciated from the facts as they appear at first glance. For example, how can an employer know that any lateness or absence isn't caused by pregnancy or disability if there is no proper investigation?

Following a procedure and carrying out a full and fair investigation allows an employer to be satisfied that they can honestly say that the decision was fair taking into account all the different circumstances. The procedure not only helps an employer to ensure that they make a fair decision but also to demonstrate that the decision was fair.

Any decision made by an employer is ultimately open to challenge. One issue for employers to be wary of is that there will be a claim that the real reason for taking the action was not for the reason given but for some other unfair or discriminatory reason. Where no procedure has been followed it becomes much harder for an employer to show the real reason for the decision taken. When a procedure has been followed it becomes much harder for the employee to claim that it was for some other reason, especially if they haven't raised that within the procedure itself.
On a more practical note, a failure to follow the procedures can result in a significant award being made at the LRC or EAT if the decision is successfully challenged and it is harder for an employer to convince a Tribunal to give them the benefit of the doubt if there is no good reason for not following the set procedures.

It can feel like an inconvenience to go through the procedures initially but it is a much greater inconvenience to have to defend a decision without anything to support that the decision was fair and reasonable at the time. Following procedures puts an employer in a much stronger position in the long run should the decision come under scrutiny.

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