Failing to see the funny side of a workplace joke
Published 14 March 2018
The usual response to a bad joke is deathly silence but if it results in a threat to your job security it is certainly no laughing matter.
When delivery driver Eric made a gag about work, the last thing he expected was to be contacting the Castle Associates employee support centre for help.
While Eric was away on holiday a colleague at the Buckinghamshire firm where he worked was using the vehicle he last drove. That driver had a lucky escape when a front wheel flew off the while he was driving it. He was unhurt but the vehicle was damaged.
Eric would later face a disciplinary hearing and an allegation he carried out unsafe work on the vehicle.
When Eric returned to work he was summoned to his manager’s office. He was quizzed about a comment to a colleague when he said he had to be a delivery driver and a mechanic as well.
Eric admitted making the comment as a joke after checking and failing to discover the cause of a noise that appeared to come from the front wheel of the van. He did report it.
The manager informed Eric the company believes he changed the wheel, failed to tighten it properly and this caused the accident.
Eric insisted the comment was just a joke. He was informed that while he had been away, the company had carried out a disciplinary investigation and there was enough evidence to indicate he did change the wheel.
Eric was suspended from work and sent home and told he would be invited to a disciplinary hearing at a later date.
He met with our representative and provided him with all of the evidence to support the allegation. Eric informed our representative he had raised concerns about the noise on the van and it was documented.
He also had evidence to show he had raised other safety concerns with management about company vehicles, which had not been acted upon. Eric had emails, text messages and notes he had in the vehicle report book to support this.
At the disciplinary hearing our representative argued that Eric should be treated as whistle-blower as he had raised concerns about health and safety risks to drivers. The evidence was provided to support this.
Prior to the hearing the company provided information from the tracking device that was fitted to the van. The information revealed Eric had been stationary at a fast food outlet for 40 minutes on the day he made the joke about being a mechanic as well as a delivery driver.
Our representative provided the company with evidence from Eric, which explained why he had a longer than usual break on that day.
Eric’s wife had sent him a text message saying she had been taken ill and a neighbour was taking her to hospital.
His phone records showed he made a number of short calls to his wife’s phone; he had to leave voice messages, before he was able to call the neighbour and have a conversation with her.
It turned out not to be anything serious and Eric was informed of this in a phone call from his wife before returning to the depot.
Our representative also pointed out the colleague Eric had joked to about being a mechanic, said in his statement that it was made in a jokey manner and he thought it was just ‘Eric being Eric.’
Prior to the disciplinary hearing our representative requested additional information from the company in order to support Eric’s case. The requested information, which had been mentioned by Eric when he met our representative, included evidence to show the spare wheel on the vehicle had been reported as being flat by another driver before Eric started driving the vehicle.
The meeting was adjourned and when it reconvened Eric was cleared of any wrongdoing. It’s safe to say his days of being a workplace joker are now over.