Cleaning up the mess created by a rubbish disciplinary outcome
Published 07 November 2018
It may sound like the start of a fairy-tale, but once upon our time our representatives were truly shocked by blatantly unfair disciplinary decisions being made by employers.
In real life however this is something they are now accustomed to. When an employee is dismissed it can be devastating and in some cases life-changing for the individual.
This was certainly the case with Victoria before she contacted the Castle Associates employee support centre for help.
Victoria had worked at an adult education college for 16 years before being sacked for ‘stealing’ a discarded exercise book. She was struggling financially at the time, the decision left her feeling suicidal and she was later diagnosed with depression for the first time in her life.
Victoria admitted taking the book from a box left outside near the bins. She believed the sanction was too harsh and that she had been unfairly dismissed. Victoria submitted an appeal against the decision.
Our representative reviewed and discussed the case with Victoria and explained the disciplinary appeal process to her as she had no idea what to expect.
During her employment with the college there were a number of occasions when Victoria genuinely feared for her job security. She had faced a number of redundancy selection processes and survived. The last such occasion was just three months before her dismissal.
Victoria’s problem arose when she took the book to give to her youngest child who loved drawing. The following week she was called to her manager’s office and shown CCTV footage of her taking the book from near the bins in the car park.
Victoria was asked to explain her actions, and did so. She was informed that as she had admitted stealing college property the decision had been made to dismiss her.
Shocked Victoria argued that she was entitled to a disciplinary hearing before that decision can be made. She was told theft was an act of gross misconduct and as she admitted it dismissal was the only option, and that there was therefore no need for a disciplinary hearing.
Victoria’s dismissal was later confirmed in a letter, which was titled ‘outcome of disciplinary hearing.’
At the appeal hearing our representative argued the decision and process were grossly unfair. He asserted the letter confirming Victoria’s dismissal was misleading as she was unfairly denied the right to a disciplinary hearing, which is the cornerstone of a fair disciplinary process.
He told the appeal hearing that the decision to dismiss Victoria was an overreaction as it was reasonable for her to assume the book was litter and was about to be thrown out.
Prior to the appeal hearing our representative had requested information from the college to prepare for the meeting. He used that information to demonstrate that there was no clear policy or guidelines for staff in regards to taking discarded items, which some employers do have.
He showed the book featuring the child’s drawings to the appeal hearing chair, explained Victoria stood to make no personal gain from taking the book and argued that at worse this was a misunderstanding about taking rubbish.
Our representative maintained the sanction was disproportionate given the value and significance of the book. He also highlighted Victoria’s long-service, numerous commendations and awards for her work and her exemplary disciplinary record.
He asserted that given the mitigating factors if any sanction was awarded it should have been one short of dismissal. He referred to employment law and the ACAS Code of Practice which make it clear dismissal should not be an automatic sanction even with a finding of gross misconduct.
Victoria’s desired outcome was to clear her name and be reinstated. The appeal hearing chair said she would write to Victoria with an outcome within five working days.
That afternoon she called Victoria to inform her that her appeal had been successful and that she had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
“A reputation built on success”
For free 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. 0333 772 0611