OT poses a monthly scenario from a practitioner. This month, we look at disciplinary procedures and how the AOP can support members in this situation
John, AOP member
"I have been working for my employer as a resident optometrist for the last 10 years with no problems. However, today I have been told that the practice I work for has received a patient complaint about me. I don’t think I have done anything wrong, but I have now been invited to a disciplinary hearing. I’d like to know what my rights are and how my employer should handle this situation. Can the AOP help me and, if so, how?"
Heidi Blakey, AOP employment counsel
What are my rights and how should my employer handle the situation?
John’s employer should act reasonably, impartially and fairly. It should follow the ACAS code of practice, which provides practical guidance to employers and employees carrying out disciplinary processes. In addition, it should follow its own disciplinary procedures if these are in place.
In advance of the hearing
The employer should investigate the allegations against John before deciding whether there is a case to answer and before calling him to a disciplinary hearing.
John has a right to understand what the allegations against him are. These should be clearly set out in writing in the invitation to the disciplinary hearing. He should also be given copies of any documentation that the company intends to rely on at the hearing, along with any details of witnesses if they are being called and a copy of any company disciplinary policy.
"Once both sides of the case have been presented, the hearing should then be adjourned to allow the chair to consider all the information and reach a decision or investigate further if need be"
John should be given sufficient notice of the meeting (minimum 48 hours) and the invitation to the hearing should be in writing. He should have sufficient time to prepare for the meeting. He should be able to submit relevant documentation in advance of the hearing and call witnesses if he wishes to. Furthermore, John should be informed of and given the right to be accompanied to the meeting by a fellow colleague or a trade union representative.
It is also important to make sure that John is aware of the possible consequences of the hearing. Therefore, there should be an indication of the severity of the allegations in question and possible consequences, such as a warning or dismissal.
At the hearing
The chair of the hearing should be as impartial as possible, which means that they ideally should not have been involved in any earlier investigation into John’s conduct. At the hearing, the employer should set out and explain the allegations so that John knows the case against him. John should be given the full opportunity to answer the allegations and defend his position. John’s companion can support him and assist him in putting forward his case. A clear note of the hearing should be taken by a separate note taker.
Once both sides of the case have been presented, the hearing should then be adjourned to allow the chair to consider all the information and reach a decision or investigate further if need be.
Following the hearing
The chair should carefully review all the evidence and then make a decision as to the outcome. The chair should take into account any explanation given and mitigating factors, including length of service and disciplinary record to date.
Once the decision is made, this should be clearly communicated to John. Sometimes a decision meeting will be called, but the outcome should always be confirmed in writing either way, and John should be given the opportunity to appeal any sanction.
Can the AOP help and if so, how?
The AOP has a dedicated employment law team that can help and John, or anyone in a similar situation to John, should contact the AOP as soon as possible.
The AOP provides entirely independent advice for its members and would be able to advise John regarding the detail of the patient complaint (both clinical and legal aspects), the member’s rights and the employer’s obligations.
"The AOP provides entirely independent advice for its members and would be able to advise John regarding the detail of the patient complaint"
The AOP can assist its member to prepare for the forthcoming hearing. It also has a Companion Service and can therefore importantly arrange for them to be accompanied at the hearing by a trade union representative.*
Advice is also given in the aftermath of the hearing, including assistance should members wish to appeal any decision or sanction issued.
The AOP can also advise individuals on any reporting requirements in respect of the General Optical Council (GOC) or NHS where applicable, and may be able to provide assistance in any future GOC fitness to practise cases.
Assistance for employers and business owners
In addition to advising employed members, the AOP also regularly advises business owners on how to follow such processes, thus assisting all its members to partake in fair processes and procedures whether an employer or employee.
*The AOP is able to arrange for our members to be accompanied by a trade union representative at meetings with their employer through a companion service, which we operate with the assistance of an external trade union.
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