Cleaning up an extremely unpleasant disciplinary process
Published 13 September 2023
When machine operator Angela repeatedly complained about the ‘disgusting’ toilet facilities at work she was left shocked by the response.
She was fired for what her bosses called an unrelenting campaign of harassment against colleagues.
Angela had consistently complained about the disgusting state of the female toilets and the dirty toilet bowls in the two-cubicle room and mess left on the floor and walls.
It was a concern for Angela, because aged in her late 50s, she needed to use the facilities more often than younger colleagues.
Appalled Angela had openly aired her feelings with other staff and blamed both male and female workmates.
She also complained to management verbally and on two occasions via email with picture evidence, which would later prove helpful in this case.
But Angela was dismissed after six years’ service for intimidating staff, making them feel extremely uncomfortable and as if they were being spied on using the toilet.
When she discussed the case with our representative, who would help her challenge the decision, he was shocked by how she had been treated.
Angela explained to him how she had complained about the dirty toilets over what was roughly a two-month period.
She described how the issue arose after the cleaner retired and was never replaced.
Angela did admit she may have gone over the top on occasion, but felt she was justified in doing so.
However, it did eventually lead to a complaint being made, which resulted in Angela being suspended from work.
During the subsequent investigation a couple of witnesses said Angela had said she was going to hide a camera in the toilet to catch the culprit/s, which caused some staff to not want to use the facilities.
Angela was asked about ‘spying on colleagues using the toilet’ during her fact-finding meeting, which took place during the disciplinary investigation.
Angela categorically denied ever putting a camera in the toilet. She said it was a stupid comment made in the hope it may put a stop to what was happening.
Just before Angela was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing she was signed off sick after being diagnosed with work-related stress.
She informed her employer she was unwell, unable to attend the hearing, and did not do so. Angela was dismissed in her absence for the harassment of colleagues.
Our representative submitted a disciplinary appeal on behalf of Angela. It listed a number of grounds, which supported that the decision and process were both unfair.
At the appeal hearing our representative asserted it is a legal requirement for an employer to provide employees with suitable toilet facilities, which must also be well maintained. Pictures taken by Angela, along with those she had previously sent to management with two emails, were presented to show they were not well maintained.
Our representative said the issue had a greater impact on Angela because of her age and need to use the facilities more often. As such it was said the decision to dismiss could also potentially amount to age discrimination.
The fact Angela was also denied the right to a disciplinary hearing was highlighted to emphasise the unfairness of the process and her treatment.
It was accepted the comment about hiding a camera in the toilet was stupid, and made expressly clear it never happened and was only said in genuine frustration at feeling ignored.
Our representative said it was never Angela’s intention to make colleagues feel harassed or uncomfortable.
Additional points raised to support the appeal included the employer failing to act on an important sanitation issue, Angela’s remorse for the impact of her actions on colleagues and the learning she had taken from what occurred.
To her credit the disciplinary appeal hearing chair, a director of the company, was sympathetic and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, did openly show her disgust at the state of the toilets.
She later upheld the appeal, reinstated Angela which was her desired outcome and vowed to personally address the issue.