The Employment Disciplinary Process

It is unlikely that you will be involved in a disciplinary process as an intern, but it is possible. If you are, we recommend contacting your work experience coordinator. Expect that we may suggest "that was dumb" but nonetheless we are here to support you and help assist in ensuring the process is fair and proportionate.


The formal disciplinary process in NZ is designed to ensure that those in charge (managers/owners) provide employees a fair opportunity to address the problems raised and do not jump to conclusions or make decisions in the heat of the moment. It is a tiered process, meaning that minor problems are discussed and training offered, before concluding the employee is not prepared to perform to expectations.

The tiers are;

  1. Verbal Warning
  2. Written Warning
  3. Final Written Warning

Serious problems can result in Final Written Warning or Termination. Typically serious problems are defined in your employment contract and might include theft and verbal or physical abuse of staff or management.

Not turning up to work is not considered a disciplinary problem. Typically your contract states that after three working days of unexplained absence and reasonable efforts by your employer to find you, you are considered to have abandoned your job.

Disciplinary process

This is not intended as a lesson on how to participate in a disciplinary process. Seek professional help should you need that advice. It is merely to provide some context should you ever be facing a disciplinary process as an employee. If in doubt, seek the advice of an employment lawyer.

Assume for the moment that the employer has a concern with an employee. It may be poor time-keeping (turning up late) or it may be an argument with a colleague in the workplace.

Step 1 - Notification. The employee will be advised, typically in writing (or email) that the employer has a concern. This notification will identify what the concern is and set a time (in a few days) and a place for a disciplinary meeting as a forum for discussing the concern. The notification will also advise that the disciplinary meeting may result in a warning or the termination of the employment. It will also advise that a support person may be bought to the meeting.

Do not be concerned about the use of language like "disciplinary meeting" or "termination". This is a formal process that is intended to ensure the employee understands the gravity of the concern. The meeting does not have to result in either discipline or termination, for example, if there is a good explanation or mitigating circumstances. Sometimes the meeting will merely result in documenting training needs and expectations that may not have been identified earlier.

Putting the meeting off for a few days is important to allow time for emotions to subside and evidence to examined.

If the employer feels the situation warrants, they may send the employee home on full pay until the meeting.

You may choose to take a support person. This can be anyone you feel is suited to support you under the circumstances. Often this is family, a friend or a work colleague that is not involved in the event. As an intern you can also call on your work experience coordinator. The support person's role is to support you and witness the meeting. They are not there to conduct your defense or re-examine the evidence. They can however call a time out at any point, for any reason, in order to give you a break, offer counsel or let emotions settle down.

Step 2 - Disciplinary Meeting. The meeting itself will typically start with the employer stating the concern they have and discussing the evidence they have accumulated. They will then offer the employee an opportunity to explain their side. There may be some discussion to clarify the evidence and the statement in defense. Typically the statement will be placed in writing to be added to the evidence to be considered. Once everything is aired, the employer will typically call for a break while they consider the concern, the evidence and the statement in defense. This may be for a few hours or a few days.

Step 3 - Determination. On reconvening, the employer typically has made a decision on how they wish to proceed. This can range from no-action, documenting a training scheme and expectations to be met after training, a verbal warning (which is always documented in writing), or a written or final written warning. In serious cases, which may include a track record of previous warnings for an ongoing unresolved problem, the employer may terminate the employment.

If the concern is minor, typically you may get a verbal warning which will sit on your employment record. If the issue repeats within a reasonable time frame, you may get a further disciplinary meeting that may result in a written warning, and so on.

If you disagree with the outcome of the meeting, you can typically ask for it to be reviewed by the manager of the person that conducted the meeting. This allows the business to check that good process has been followed and they support that the outcome is appropriate.

If you are still not happy, the next step is to seek advice from an employment lawyer and possibly the employment tribunal for adjudication.

In conclusion, if you find yourself in a disciplinary process as an intern, as a first step seek advice and counsel from your work experience coordinator.