An Employment Tribunal’s maximum award for unfair dismissal is £76,574, so getting disciplinary proceedings wrong can be costly. So what are the core principles when dealing with employees and misconduct?

If formal disciplinary action is needed you must ensure you get your facts right by investigating the allegations thoroughly and with proper notes taken. If you decide there is a case for the employee to answer, they should be invited in writing to attend a formal disciplinary meeting. If possible, someone other than the person investigating should hold the meeting and make the final decision. The allegations must be confirmed in the letter so they have the opportunity to prepare their ‘defence’, with any evidence from the investigation disclosed to the employee in advance.

Written records of the meeting and any outcome are invaluable; without them how can you show you have been reasonable? An appeal against any decision must be offered and should be heard by someone different.

In reaching a decision, be consistent with previous decisions. Consider past good, as well as bad, behaviour. It is hard to justify a dismissal for a "first offence" unless it is for gross misconduct.

There are four steps in justifying a decision to dismiss: you have a genuine belief that the employee is guilty of misconduct; there are reasonable grounds on which to base that belief; you have carried out as much investigation as is reasonable; and the decision to dismiss falls within the "band of reasonable responses".

An example of where employers often fail to get the balance right is with social media where an employee has posted derogatory comments about their employer and colleagues.

In the 2010 case of Witham v Club 24 Ltd t/a Ventura, an employee posted comments about colleagues on Facebook, referring to them as "bastards". Despite apologising, the employee, Mrs Witham, was dismissed on the basis that her comments could have damaged the relationship between the employer and a major customer, had the comments come to their attention. She claimed unfair dismissal, which was upheld by the Employment Tribunal, as there was no evidence that the major customer would have terminated an important commercial agreement as a result of comments made by a relatively junior employee, and which did not refer to them.

The Tribunal did not consider there had been a breach of trust and confidence, as the company had failed to identify the misconduct with sufficient particularity. It also considered that the company had not understood its own policies and procedures and had failed to appreciate that its disciplinary policy provided for alternatives to dismissal.

The case demonstrates that an employer should always consider the risk of harm arising from the employee’s actions before summarily dismissing them on grounds of gross misconduct. It is always best to have a disciplinary policy which sets out how misconduct will be dealt with, which should be consistent with all these principles.