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An ill-informed disciplinary outcome for an employee on sick leave

Published 04 May 2022

The shock of being wrongly accused of a serious disciplinary allegation would make most employees feel ill.

When Stuart, a client service project manager, was alleged to have stolen from a colleague, he was both furious and shocked.

He categorically denied the allegation that he took food items belonging to a colleague from a fridge at work.

The stress he suffered as a result of being wrongly accused of theft made him ill. Stuart was signed off work for six weeks as a result of work-related stress.

An attempt was made to hold a disciplinary hearing while he was on sick leave.

Stuart notified his employer he was unfit to attend the hearing. It was cancelled and rearranged.

The letter inviting Stuart, who had worked for his employer for four years, to the new hearing warned that should he fail to attend again, it would go ahead in his absence.

At the time of the scheduled hearing Stuart’s fit note, formerly known as a sick note, had another two weeks before it expired.

He told his employer he was still unwell and he would not be able to attend. The company insisted the hearing would still go ahead.

Stuart then said as he had a right to be accompanied at the hearing and he had not been able to find a suitable companion because he was ill, he needed more time. His employer again insisted it would proceed with the hearing.

Worried Stuart spoke to a senior colleague for help and advice about what he should do. The workmate advised Stuart he should raise a grievance, which he did.

The grounds for grievance were unfair treatment in relation to the disciplinary process and fact it was having a damaging effect on Stuart’s mental health.

His employer said it would deal with the disciplinary and grievance cases concurrently, which it was entitled to do in accordance with the guidance in the ACAS Code of Practice. It arranged to hear both cases on the same day

The company then reiterated its intention to hold the disciplinary hearing as scheduled, with or without Stuart.

He was not able to attend, the hearing took place without him and the allegation of theft was upheld. Stuart was dismissed.

Distraught by the outcome he contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help.

When Stuart spoke to our representative about his case he made it clear he felt the process conducted was unreasonable.

As a result he believed it was an unfair dismissal, and our representative agreed.

A disciplinary appeal was submitted on behalf of Stuart on the grounds that the decision and process were unfair.

Upon reviewing the case it was also clear the evidence of theft against Stuart was dubious. It was in effect that he was the last person seen opening the fridge shortly before the items were reported missing.

In a comprehensive presentation of Stuart’s appeal our representative highlighted and undermined the highly questionable evidence to uphold the extremely serious allegation of theft.

Regarding the disciplinary process, he asserted the decision to proceed in Stuart’s absence when he was clearly ill, and no attempt had been made to establish his fitness to take part in the hearing, was grossly unfair.

It was added he had a valid reason for being unable to attend, there had only been one previous cancellation and alternative ways in which to hold the hearing e.g. allow him to make a written submission or have a representative attend on his behalf were not considered or offered.

The appeal hearing was told that this breached guidance provided by ACAS, and any such breach was usually a reliable indication a process was unfair.

The fact the employer had also not dealt with the grievance was highlighted to point out its dismissive approach to Stuart’s case and legitimate concerns he raised.

Stuart loved his job and his desired appeal outcome was to be reinstated.

A week after the disciplinary appeal hearing he received a letter confirming his appeal had been successful. He was reinstated.

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