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A look inside a disciplinary process with a timely ending.

Published 10 November 2021

When Pauline took a peek inside a folder she found in the car park at work, it led to a reaction from her bosses that she did not see coming.

The folder contained confidential documents, including one about a dispute between Pauline’s employer and a major client.

When digital designer Pauline contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help, she explained what happened next.

The folder had a blank front, so Pauline opened it to see who it belonged to. The first and only document Pauline saw was about a client threatening to sue her employer, and her bosses plans to make staff redundant if it lost.

When an understandably concerned Pauline handed the folder to a director she asked her what was going on?

She told Pauline it was nothing to worry about, the document was old and the matter resolved.

Pauline started work. She was at her desk for about five minutes when she was approached by the HR manager who demanded to speak to her immediately.

He asked Pauline about the folder, what she had seen, what she said to the director and about anyone else she had mentioned it to.

Pauline explained what had happened and that she had not spoken to anyone else about it.

The HR manager informed Pauline that she had accessed and disclosed details of confidential company information to the director she spoke to.

He said it was serious and therefore Pauline would be suspended from work while the matter was investigated. Pauline was shocked, and insisted she had not done anything wrong.

The following week Pauline was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing. The allegation was accessing and disclosing confidential company information.

The letter inviting Pauline to the hearing warned dismissal was a potential outcome.

The letter also informed Pauline of her right to be accompanied at the meeting by a colleague or trade union representative.

Pauline chose to attend the hearing with a female colleague. At the hearing the colleague helped Pauline to present her case, as a companion is entitled to do.

A few days after the hearing Pauline received a written outcome. The letter informed her that she had been dismissed for gross misconduct.

Included in the justification for the decision, was that Pauline had further disclosed confidential information to her colleague who acted as her companion at the hearing. This was said to have caused the company to lose all trust and confidence in Pauline.

After Pauline, who had worked for her employer for four years, discussed her case with our representative, he thought she had a good claim for unfair dismissal.

He submitted a disciplinary appeal on Pauline’s behalf.

At the appeal hearing it was argued the decision to dismiss Pauline was unduly harsh based on the evidence.

Our representative told the hearing the folder had a blank cover, Pauline had no choice but look inside to find out who it belonged to, saw only one document and established it was the director and was understandably concerned and justified in asking a senior employee about what she saw.

It was pointed out Pauline did not disclose the contents to any other member of staff apart from her companion at the disciplinary hearing. Our representative argued that sharing the information with her companion was reasonable.

He said Pauline had a statutory right to be accompanied at the hearing by a colleague, who could help her to present her case. It was asserted by our representative it was logical and practical for Pauline to share information about the case in those circumstances.

Pauline loved her job and her desired appeal outcome was to be reinstated. The appeal was successful.

Pauline got her job back in March last year – one week before the country went into a national lockdown.

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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