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All GPs should by now have ensured recently introduced disciplinary and grievance procedures are in place, say Kevin McFadden and Ursula Ross

The Employment Act 2002 introduced statutory dismissal, disciplinary and grievance procedures into the employment contract operable from October 1 this year. The BMA believes all GPs who employ staff really ought to have these in place.

Disciplinary rules and procedures help to promote good employment relations as well as ensuring that fairness and consistency in the treatment of individual employees is apparent. Grievance procedures allow individual employees the right to raise issues with their employer that they are not happy with, for example changes in working practices without proper consultation.

The new rules require employers to follow a specific statutory minimum procedure if they are contemplating dismissing one of their employees, including: dismissal on the ground of capability, conduct, redundancy, non-renewal of a fixed-term contract or retirement; and all disciplinary action such as demotion or reduction of pay but excepting actions that are part of a workplace procedure.

No prior discussion

In order to give this matter some perspective, many practices may already have procedures in place that go further than the statutory minimum requirement. In such cases there is no need to take action other than to confirm compliance with the new procedures.

However, last year more than 94,000 claims were lodged in employment tribunals ranging from problems regarding pay and conditions to racial and sexual harassment. Government research shows that in more than a third of those cases the individual employee and the manager had not discussed the problem at all.

The new rules require employers and employees to follow a minimum three-stage procedure to ensure disputes are discussed at work before dismissal or resignation or the lodging of a discrimination or unfair dismissal claim in the employment tribunal takes place.

It is important to note that if procedures are not complied with, either side may be penalised, and in certain situations employees may not be able to bring unfair dismissal and discrimination claims in the tribunal.

When a new employee starts work, the practice must provide, within two months of the starting date, a written statement of employment particulars such as pay and hours, and this must now include details of the employee disciplinary and grievance procedures. Specifically the statement must set out any disciplinary rules that apply to employees and must tell them to whom they should go if they have a grievance.

The written statement is not of itself a contract of employment, but can provide evidence of the terms and conditions of employment in the event of an employment tribunal taking place.

There was no previous requirement to set out the procedures that might apply, whereas now the letter must set out all aspects of the dismissal and disciplinary procedures and grievance procedures. It applies to all employers regardless of the number of staff they employ.

Who's at fault?

If the grievance, disciplinary or dismissal procedures have not been followed before the case goes to tribunal, the tribunal will decide whether it is the fault of the employee or the employer.

If it is the employee, any money awarded will normally be decreased by at least 10 per cent and possibly up to 50 per cent. If it is the employer's fault any money awarded will normally be increased in the same way.

Important points

·The new rules are now in force

·Many GPs already follow the new rules

·Those who don't must institute them quickly

·Penalties will be incurred by failure to comply

Kevin McFadden and Ursula Ross are industrial relations officers at the Leeds office of the BMA

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