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Finding the right words to resolve a disciplinary case

Published 03 March 2021
We all like to hear a bit of workplace gossip but there can be situations where things really get out of hand and lead to serious trouble.

Spreading malicious rumours about a colleague can be considered a disciplinary offence. Some employers will treat it as an act of bullying.

Erin, a family support worker, was accused of making nasty comments and spreading lies about a colleague.

The allegation led Erin, who had been in her role for four years, to contact the Castle Associate Employee Support Centre in desperate need of help.

Erin discussed the case in detail with our representative and gave him all of the evidence. He was extremely concerned by the process and the way in which the matter was being handled.

Erin and the colleague at the centre of the allegation were very good friends.

Their families socialised together outside of work. A weekend break the families shared together was the cause of the trouble. 

It is comments Erin was alleged to have made while discussing the getaway with a male colleague in work, which led to her facing disciplinary action.

He claimed Erin slagged off her friend, made nasty and insulting comments about her husband’s sexuality and the behaviour and appearance of the children.

While Erin accepted that she did discuss the weekend break, she was adamant she did not say the things alleged.

Erin’s friend and colleague got to hear about what she had allegedly said from an employee in a different department. It is said that she then went off work sick suffering from work-related stress.

Management acted quickly and almost immediately Erin was suspended from work.

The allegation was bullying behaviour that breached the dignity at work policy.

When our representative first looked at the case, he was very concerned about the length of time Erin had been on suspension and unexplained delays to the disciplinary investigation.

Only three short witness statements were provided to support the allegation. The first witness was interviewed three months after Erin had been suspended.

At Erin’s disciplinary hearing our representative argued and explained why the delay to the process, given the small scope of the investigation conducted, was unreasonable and grossly unfair.

No notes had been taken by the employer at the time when the allegation first came to light, or immediately after Erin was suspended.

Our representative also highlighted that two of the statements were based purely on hearsay. The witnesses had been told what Erin is supposed to have said. It was also pointed out the accounts differed considerably, and the inconsistencies detailed to the hearing.

The case effectively came down to Erin’s word against that of her workmate who insisted she had made nasty comments.

Our representative referred to employment law, which has established that in such circumstances the alleged wrongdoer should be given the benefit of any doubt.

The omission of any complaint from the employee who Erin is alleged to have gossiped about was highlighted.

In our representative’s wide-ranging defence of Erin this was used to assert the whole process was unfair and that no reasonable employer would ever issue a formal sanction based on the evidence and in the same circumstances.

Erin was asked a number of questions in relation to the allegation. She was adamant throughout that she had not said the things alleged.

Our representative said that Erin was keen to address the issues highlighted during the case and continue working with her colleague. He said she was willing to take part in mediation if it was considered appropriate.

The hearing was adjourned after a couple of hours. The disciplinary hearing chair said at the time that she would like to carry out further investigations.

However, the following day Erin called our representative to inform him the allegations had been dismissed and she had been invited to return to work.


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