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An ugly disciplinary process with a desirable resolution

Published 11 May 2022

Activity instructor Caroline took great pride in her appearance and when a male workmate suggested she did so just for attention from men she was furious.

It led to an argument between the pair, which resulted in Caroline being suspended from work for intimidating and aggressive behaviour.

Caroline, who has undergone cosmetic procedures, confronted her workmate after she was informed of offensive comments he made about it only being done to attract men.

She admitted raising her voice and being angry, but insisted it was only after being insulted and provoked.

At a disciplinary hearing she expressed remorse for her actions. Our representative who accompanied Caroline at the hearing asserted she should not be punished for what occurred.

When Caroline confronted her colleague about his comments, he reacted angrily and shouted and swore at her.

She responded in a similar fashion and the situation quickly escalated and got out of hand. Other employees had to intervene.

With the support of our representative,  Caroline was eventually cleared of the allegation.

Despite this Caroline felt aggrieved at being unfairly put through a disciplinary process. It did cause her considerable distress, anxiety and fear.

Prior to the disciplinary hearing, Caroline’s constant worrying that she would be unfairly dismissed had a damaging impact on her mental health and well-being.

It resulted in her losing trust and confidence in her employer and wanting to leave, even if she was cleared of any wrongdoing.

So when the allegations against Caroline were finally dismissed, our representative initiated a conversation about a settlement agreement.

The agreement is a legally binding contract made between an employer and employee. It can be used to terminate employment on agreeable conditions and sets out the full terms between the parties.

Following the disciplinary hearing outcome there was a period of discussion and negotiation before the terms were agreed and accepted by both parties.

For Caroline, who had worked for her employer for five years, it was a happy conclusion to a situation that appeared as if it was only ever going to end badly for her.

Caroline first spoke to our representative after contacting the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre.

She did so after a two-month period of suspension, the conclusion of the disciplinary investigation  and her employer initiating the formal disciplinary process.

Caroline explained that a female colleague and a male employee were discussing cosmetic surgery.

He made a comment women only ever had it for the benefit of men, and said words to the effect that you only have to look at Caroline to see that.

When Caroline was told of the comment she admitted she was furious, which led to the confrontation.

The female worker who told Caroline what was said and who the comment was made to, raised a grievance for sexism against her co-worker.

Caroline supported her colleague as a witness in the case, but the grievance was rejected.

The male employee who was the subject of the grievance then made a counter allegation against Caroline in that she was aggressive and intimidating when she confronted him.

When spoken to initially by her manager Caroline admitted she was fuming and probably overstepped the mark. It led to her being suspended and facing formal disciplinary action.

Our representative argued at the disciplinary hearing there were significant mitigating factors in the case, which should mean Caroline was not disciplined.

That mitigation included: the highly offensive nature of the comment, the fact those who heard it and provided witness statements for the disciplinary case found it offensive; the provocation in that when Caroline first went to speak to the male worker about the comment he shouted and used foul and abusive language.

Our representative also informed the disciplinary hearing chair of Caroline’s remorse at what had occurred. He added she had taken appropriate learning from the matter, which should provide an assurance she would not be involved in a similar matter.

It was part of a comprehensive presentation of Caroline’s case, which led to her being cleared of the allegation a week later.

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