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A good recovery from a poorly run disciplinary process

Published 27 September 2023

Celia was good with numbers but she did not need to be an expert to know things did not add up when she was dismissed for an unauthorised absence.

The bookkeeper was fired for failing to notify her employer of an absence prior to her start time at work, and in accordance with company policy.

She did speak to her manager later in the day and send a text to him after her expected start time, but the absence management policy stated notification should always be via a telephone call.

Celia who had nine years’ service felt the decision to terminate her contract was harsh, and that it amounted to an unfair dismissal.

It happened after her disabled son suffered breathing difficulties in the early hours of the morning and was taken by ambulance to a hospital accident and emergency department before being admitted to a ward over 10 hours later.

Celia accepted she was preoccupied and did not follow the absence reporting policy.

When Celia eventually called her employer later in the day, she apologised for not being in contact earlier and was told by her manager not to worry about it.

After Celia contacted our Employee Support Centre for help, she explained what happened upon her return to work.

She was summoned to the manager’s office and handed a letter inviting her to a disciplinary hearing the following day. It was to face an allegation of unauthorised absence from work.

Celia asked for more time to prepare for the hearing, but was told it could not be rearranged and if she did not attend it would go ahead in her absence.

She argued it was unfair, said she wished to raise a grievance and was told by her manager she could not.

Left with no other choice Celia attended the hearing and was subsequently dismissed by her manager.

Our representative was told by Celia it was the culmination of the unfair treatment she had been subjected to, by the same manager, in the four months following the TUPE transfer of the company.

The unfavourable treatment included changes to her duties, increase in hours of work and stopping payment for overtime which was part of Celia’s employment contract.

It also included the removal of a work from home arrangement for a couple of days a week, to enable Celia to care for her son. It created significant difficulties for Celia.

Frustrated Celia had submitted a flexible working request, but her employer unreasonably delayed dealing with it prior to the unauthorised absence.

It was clear to our representative the treatment of Celia was unfair and unreasonable and that her previous work arrangements and need to care for her son appeared to be inconvenient for the employer.

He submitted a disciplinary appeal on behalf of Celia, which included grounds of disability discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal under Tupe.

At the appeal hearing our representative described the decision to dismiss Celia as unjust and unduly harsh in the circumstances. He described events and the process that led to it as grossly unfair and detailed why.

He told the hearing it appeared the company appeared to have seen an opportunity to dismiss her at seized it in order not to have to accommodate her previous work arrangements in line with TUPE regulations.

The fact Celia was dismissed for a matter that directly related to caring for her disabled son was also said to amount to a form of disability discrimination.

To her credit the disciplinary hearing chair did appear genuinely shocked by the manner in which Celia had been treated.

She later upheld the appeal and agreed to reinstate Celia , which was her desired appeal outcome, and with support and arrangements put in place to support her to care for her son.

Celia retuned to work to be greeted by a new manager. Her previous manager unexpectedly left the business for reasons, which were unexplained.

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