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Case Studies

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A disciplinary process that really put an employee’s faith to the test

Published 15 July 2020

Teaching assistant Fiona was wrongly branded an obnoxious bigot for asking collegues questions about their religion.

At a disciplinary hearing she was accused of making offensive comments when she quizzed two workmates, one a Christian and the other a Muslim, about their religious beliefs.

The disciplinary hearing was told that during a staff room chat Fiona said she does not get religion and its views on same sex relationships. Fiona added that she used to go to church as a youngster, but now she cannot see what all the fuss is about.

The discussion was not heated. Fiona’s two male colleagues certainly did not indicate that they took offence to anything that she asked or said.

When Fiona contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help she was upset and angry that disciplinary action had been instigated against her.

Fiona faced an allegation of making offensive and inappropriate comments that amounted to religious discrimination.

She discussed the case with our representative and provided him with the evidence of the case against her.

The complaint was made by an anonymous colleague said to have been in the staff room with other members of staff at the time.

That individual’s witness statement alleged that Fiona was offensive and came across as an obnoxious bigot. The witness account said Fiona’s comments were highly offensive and inappropriate.

Another member of staff, whose name was on her statement, said that she thought Fiona was loud and annoying, but harmless.

Only one of the colleagues who engaged in the conversation with Fiona provided a witness statement.

He gave a detailed account of the discussion that took place. He did not say he found anything that Fiona said to be inappropriate or that he ever considered raising a grievance.

Fiona felt the fact that her two workmates who were involved in the chat had not complained proved how farcical the whole case was. Our representative agreed

The school disciplinary policy echoed section 12 of the ACAS Code of Practice in that it allowed an employee to call witnesses to attend a disciplinary hearing.

Our representative wrote to the school to request that the two employees involved in the discussion attend the disciplinary hearing as witnesses. The school arranged for both to be present.

At the hearing both were quizzed by our representative about the discussion that took place. Both confirmed that they did not take offence to anything that was said.

Our representative argued that this provided the best evidence to support the assertion that Fiona’s comments and questions were not offensive or inappropriate.

The hearing was also told that it was unfair to allow the member of staff who made the complaint to remain anonymous.

Our representative said the school had a duty to conduct a fair disciplinary investigation, which should have involved obtaining reliable, corroborated evidence. He pointed out that there was no evidence to corroborate the complaint that had been made.

It was also argued that in allowing the witness to remain anonymous it meant that Fiona could not properly challenge what had been said or question the motive of the witness for wanting to hide their identity.

The chair of the disciplinary panel was told that just days before the incident Fiona had been blocked on Facebook by a colleague who she had challenged about her handling of a child. Fiona believed that same colleague was in the room at the time and may have made the complaint out of spite.

Our representative told the hearing that Fiona had reflected on matters, especially the witness statement that said she was loud and annoying, and taken appropriate learning from it. It was said this should provide reassurance to the school that Fiona would not be implicated in a similar matter in future.

Fiona was questioned about her religious views and she answered honestly and openly. She was adamant that she had not been offensive and categorically denied being an obnoxious bigot.

The hearing was adjourned to allow the panel to discuss the case and reach an outcome. After a 40-minute break the meeting was reconvened and Fiona cleared of the allegation.

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