Dealing with the unfair consequences of sharing workplace gossip
Published 28 September 2022
Let’s face it we all like a bit of gossip and can repeat things we have heard, but when it happens in the workplace a huge overreaction can lead to serious trouble.
When Nigel revealed to a group of workmates a derogatory nickname used by a colleague for another employee, it led to him being dismissed.
The insulting nickname referred to a female colleague’s perceived lack of intellect and the less than affluent area where she was said to live.
Nigel corrected a workmate who had used the wrong derogatory nickname in a discussion amongst staff.
He did protest his innocence at a disciplinary hearing. Nigel insisted what he said was not malicious, and that he had simply repeated what someone else had once said to him.
The woman with the offensive nickname did not complain. The complaint came from a member of staff involved in the group discussion.
The disciplinary allegation levelled against Nigel of inappropriate behaviour/comment to another member of staff which offends them i.e. using abusive and derogatory language when talking about/to a colleague, was considered proven.
Nigel was dismissed from his role as a teaching assistant at the primary school where he had worked for three years.
Nigel was convinced it was an unfair dismissal. He felt the sanction was too severe.
When our representative first spoke to Nigel, discussed the case with him and reviewed the evidence, it was a view he shared.
Nigel knew he needed help to appeal against the decision, which is why he contacted our Employee Support Centre.
He was very clear on the appeal outcome that he wanted. Nigel was seeking to be reinstated.
Our representative submitted a letter on behalf of Nigel to initiate the disciplinary appeal process.
The grounds for appeal were that the decision was unfair and unduly harsh based on the evidence.
Our representative reviewed the disciplinary evidence, the outcome and relevant company policies in detail.
The evidence relied upon to dismiss Nigel was contained in witness statements. The case essentially rested on what witnesses said they heard him say.
At the disciplinary appeal hearing, our representative focused on what was actually stated in four of the five witness statements.
Those statements, in different words, contained information to help demonstrate Nigel simply said what he had heard, and he was not directly calling his colleague an offensive name.
The statements also provided the context in which Nigel made the comment, and this was highlighted by our representative.
It was during a discussion about the member of staff and a serious incident she was involved in that day, someone mentioned the insulting nickname but got it wrong, and Nigel corrected it .
This was used to argue that Nigel was not being intentionally nasty. Our representative told the hearing Nigel deeply regretted any upset that may have been caused by him repeating gossip he had heard.
The hearing was told he had taken appropriate learning from the matter and apologised if anyone was offended by what he said. Our representative was also keen to highlight relevant school policies in support of Nigel’s case.
The school’s disciplinary policy clearly listed making comments that offend colleagues as an act of misconduct and worthy of a warning, and not gross misconduct that can lead to dismissal. The policy also made clear its aim was to correct behaviour where possible and not to punish.
Our representative used sections of the policy to help in his robust and successful argument that the decision to dismiss Nigel was unduly harsh based on the evidence.
Nigel was asked a number of questions by the disciplinary appeal hearing chair in relation to the allegation.
At the end of the appeal hearing, the employer said it would notify Nigel of the appeal outcome within five days.
The following morning he received a phone call to say the decision to dismiss him had been overturned and he had been reinstated.