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Cleaning up a disciplinary mess

Published 16 March 2022

Being dismissed can be traumatic for any employee - and in Maria’s case it meant her family home was at risk

She was sacked after a disciplinary hearing at which she faced allegations of serious insubordination and failing to follow a management instruction.

Maria, who had two jobs, was sacked from her evening cleaning role after three years’ service.

When she contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help she was desperate to be reinstated.

With two sources of income Maria struggled and was just about managing to pay her bills. She had unsuccessfully applied for countless jobs after being dismissed.

Maria, a single mum with two teenage sons in secondary school, feared not being able pay her rent and eviction if she was not reinstated.

When our representative reviewed the case he quickly concluded it was an unfair dismissal.

A thorough and reasonable investigation had not taken place and the disciplinary process conducted and outcome was evidently unfair.

Maria was alleged to have breached her employer’s mobile phone use policy at work and guidance on wearing face masks.  She had been warned previously for allegedly doing so.

It resulted in her being issued with a first written warning, just two months before the new allegations. Our representative queried this with Maria.

She explained that she was late for work, forgot to put her phone on silent, started work and her supervisor saw her switching the handset to silent mode.

Maria said her female supervisor then accused her of failing to follow rules on using phones at work, and then added she was the only worker who did not always ensure her face mask covered her nose.

She issued Maria with what was effectively an on-the-spot first written warning. It was confirmed in a letter the following day that it would be in place for six months. Maria was not given the right to appeal.

The subsequent incident that led to Maria’s dismissal followed what was said to be a complaint made to the supervisor. It was from a worker at an office block where Maria was cleaning.

The timing of the apparent complaint was rather dubious. It came after Maria requested a day off, her supervisor refused, they had a disagreement and Maria escalated it to head office and was given the day off.

Quickly afterwards Maria was suspended from work. It was after her supervisor said there had been a complaint about her work, and her using her phone and not wearing a mask.

Shocked Maria insisted the allegation was not true, asked for more details so she could prove it, but was not given additional information.

At the disciplinary hearing that followed, the evidence to support the allegations was the first written warning and a statement from the supervisor detailing the complaint she had received.

As Maria had an active disciplinary warning and the allegation was considered proven, despite her protests, she was dismissed for insubordination and failing to follow a management instruction.

Our representative submitted a disciplinary appeal on the grounds the disciplinary process was unfair and no reasonable employer would have dismissed Maria based on the evidence.

The appeal hearing was told by our representative the dismissal involved several serious breaches of the ACAS Code of Practice, which was a reliable indication the decision to dismiss was unfair.

He highlighted the first warning being issued without a disciplinary hearing and no right to appeal, the lack of details and evidence to support the most recent allegation e.g. no direct statement from the complainant and lack of specifics such as when and where Maria was seen using her phone and not wearing a face mask.

In a comprehensive presentation of the appeal our representative argued the failure to conduct a fair disciplinary process and lack of sufficient details in support of the allegation undoubtedly meant the decision to dismiss was unfair.

The argument proved successful and Maria was reinstated a week later.

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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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