What Are Disciplinary Proceedings?

Mary McMahon

Disciplinary proceedings are procedures members of an organization are subject to if they violate the rules and regulations set out by the organization. This provides a mechanism for internally enforcing rules and making sure members understand the consequences for violations. In some cases, these can include legal penalties, depending on the organization and the nature of the violation. Academic institutions and other groups with bylaws governing activities, like professional organizations and local governments, can all use disciplinary proceedings.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

Bylaws usually spell out the procedure for handling discipline problems. It starts with a report of an issue, and a review by members in a position of authority to decide whether to move forward with proceedings. They can solicit more information, collect evidence, and may even conduct a trial. At a trial, parties to the matter will have an opportunity to speak, including witnesses to misconduct, the person charged with the rules violation, and other interested parties.

After confirming that a violation occurred, the officials in charge of disciplinary proceedings can set out an appropriate penalty. This may also be discussed in the bylaws. Typically penalties for a first offense are less severe; a student who cheats on a paper, for example, might receive a warning and a requirement to take a remedial class on properly sourcing in a research paper. Future violations might result in fines or expulsion from the organization.

Professional organizations like medical boards and bar examiners have the ability to strip members of professional credentials through disciplinary proceedings, just as governments can remove members from office through impeachment, a specific form of disciplinary proceeding. In these cases, the punishment has very serious ramifications for the wrongdoer, and the organization's members take care to make sure they follow their procedural standards and hear the case thoroughly before issuing a decision.

Records of disciplinary proceedings are kept on file and in some cases may be available on request. Consumers can look up records for attorneys and doctors to see if they have ever been charged with professional misconduct and what the outcome of the charges was. The information can also become important in a court case; a negligent doctor, for example, may be barred from practice and also subject to a civil suit for damages. Any cases that make their way into civil or criminal court will become a matter of public record, and any discussion of organizational disciplinary proceedings that comes up during the trial will also go on the record.

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