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The ACAS Code of Practice helps employees and employers handle disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace. The code sets out a clear process for dealing with difficulties in the workplace.

Many disciplinary or grievance procedures can be resolved informally, but where they cannot, they must be settled formally.

What happens if I don’t follow the ACAS Code of Practice?

Failure to comply with the Code by the employer or employee does not alone make a person or organisation liable to employment law proceedings. However, it could eventually lead to an employment tribunal, if failure to follow the Code results in employers breaking the law.

Employment tribunals take the Code into account when considering cases, therefore if a tribunal considers that an employer has unreasonably failed to follow the Code they can increase the award of compensation to the employee by up to 25 per cent. Similarly, employees who unreasonably fail to follow the Code can have any awards reduced by up to 25 per cent.

Common employer breaches of the ACAS Code of Practice:

  • Not warning an employee of the possible consequences of disciplinary action
  • Not operating a system of warnings
  • Failure to keep clear records of the whole disciplinary process
  • Failure to have an adequate appeal stage
  • Having the same person deal with the whole process

How employees can follow the ACAS Code when handling grievance procedures:

  • Let the employer know the nature of the grievance
  • Employees should raise grievances in writing
  • Should not unreasonably delay meetings, appeals, decisions or confirmation of those decisions

What types of cases apply to the ACAS Code?

The ACAS Code applies to dismissals for conduct or performance and not to redundancy or to the non-renewal of fixed term contracts. It does not apply to all grievance and dismissal claims but includes those related to breach of contract, deduction of wages, discrimination, equal pay and unfair dismissal.

The issue of whether the Code applies to dismissals for ‘some other substantial reason’ (SOSR) or ill-health has been unclear until recently. Two cases in 2016 (Holmes v Qinetiq and Phoenix House v Stockman) ended with the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruling that ACAS Code does not apply for these dismissals.

Independent of any application of the ACAS Code of Practice, employers have to show they have followed a fair process in reaching any decision and so compliance with relevant elements of the Code will help to demonstrate this. Much of the Code is relevant regardless of the reason for dismissal.

Advice about employment law for employers

If you have recently been notified that an employee has made the decision to make a grievance, our specialist employment law team can provide you with legal advice and guidance to help protect you and fight your corner. For further advice on your situation, contact us using the telephone numbers below: