A disciplinary process not fit for purpose
Published 07 September 2021
Social media can cause huge problems for employees even when they believe their actions are innocent.
Office worker Trent was a fitness fanatic who loved working out. He had a female colleague who was also into fitness and healthy eating.
Trent sent his colleague a number of topless pictures of himself in the early hours of the morning following a lively night out with workmates. The images were taken after he had finished a workout earlier that day.
There were no words with the images, and his colleague did not respond to them.
His workmate was staying at a colleague’s apartment with other employees, who included the office manager. The female manager was shown the images.
Back in work nothing was said and everything continued as normal.
About three weeks later Trent, who had been looking to find a new job after working for his employer for just over three years, got offered a job.
Delighted Trent accepted the job and handed in his notice.
While working his notice, Trent made a joke with a sexual reference to his colleague who he had sent the pictures to. Other colleagues were present at the time.
Later the same day Trent was called into his manager’s office and suspended from work.
He was informed a complaint of sexual harassment had been made against him.
The manager told Trent she had seen the photos he sent after the night out. She said immediate action was needed to protect female members of staff.
Shocked Trent was adamant he had not done anything wrong. He said the pair often exchanged workout photos and it was just about fitness and nothing else.
He said he was due to leave in a couple of weeks, asked if he could apologise and just leave early.
Trent was told his actions were too serious and the company had to carry out a disciplinary investigation.
The same evening Trent received a message from his female colleague asking if he was ok.
She apologised for getting him in trouble, and said she only showed the photos to the manager because she was impressed at how ‘ripped’ he looked.
The workmate said she had been asked to provide a witness statement and copies of the photos, but refused.
However, Trent was invited to a disciplinary hearing just days later
The evidence against him consisted of a statement from the office manager describing the pictures she had seen of Trent, and statements from colleagues present when he told the joke.
Trent contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help with his case.
Upon discussing the case with our representative, Trent informed him of the message of support he had received from his colleague.
It was clear from the message she did not believe he had done anything wrong, and definitely did not support the action being taken against him.
Trent also said the joke he told was in keeping with the workplace banter. He had messages and videos to back up that claim.
Trent’s desired outcome was to clear his name and leave for his new job without being dismissed.
Our representative submitted a request to the company for Trent’s colleague to attend the disciplinary hearing as a witness in accordance with section 12 of the ACAS Code of Practice.
The disciplinary hearing did not go as planned.
At the start of the meeting our representative, the disciplinary hearing chair and company HR advisor discussed the case and evidence.
It was a lengthy discussion in which our representative made it clear the allegation was unfair and without foundation, a view supported by evidence he made reference to. He asserted the failure to investigate properly and the action being taken was misguided and an overreaction.
After asking for a break to reflect on what had been said the meeting reconvened.
The company agreed to drop the allegation and allow Trent to leave with immediate effect, and with payment of his full notice period.