Case Studies

Case Studies

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Fixing a disciplinary situation in danger of damaging an illustrious career

Published 19 May 2022

When workshop manager Ernie offered ‘constructive criticism’ to an employee it was his choice of words that landed him in trouble.

It can often be the case with older workers that they say something now that was fine when they were younger, but it can be considered offensive in the modern workplace.

Ernie had been in his role for over 25 years when he faced a number of serious allegations, including homophobia which amounted to bullying.

He contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre in need for desperate help to prove his innocence.

Ernie explained that one of the joiners he managed had made a number of allegations against him after he challenged him about the poor quality of his work.

Those allegations included health and safety breaches, stealing materials, bullying and intimidation. The complaints were raised in a formal grievance.

Ernie denied all allegations with the exception of just one. He admitted using the phrase ‘big girl’s blouse’ while giving what he considered constructive feedback to the male employee.

Given his admission Ernie faced a disciplinary hearing based on just that one comment. The other grievance allegations against him were dismissed

While Ernie claimed he told the employee others may think he is acting like a big girl’s blouse, the worker alleged Ernie said he was one.

The member of staff said he took particular offence because colleagues had often criticised and mocked his fashion sense, which they considered feminine.

Ernie faced an allegation of homophobia that amounted to bullying at his disciplinary hearing.

The conversation that led to the allegation took place in Ernie’s office between him and the employee who made the complaint.

Six other employees were spoken to as part of the disciplinary investigation. Only two provided statements, which gave some cause for concern.

One said he had heard Ernie use the phrase before when talking about a footballer who has a reputation for diving, feigning injury and moaning to referees.

Another witness said Ernie means no harm, but he needs to think sometimes before he speaks.

Our representative requested the two witnesses attend the disciplinary hearing to answer questions in accordance with section 12 of the ACAS Code of Practice.

The witness who had heard Ernie use the phrase clarified, when questioned by our representative at the hearing, that he used it to describe how others could view the footballer’s antics.

The other witness said he had never heard Ernie say anything offensive, but he can sometimes come across as being out of touch with younger employees.

Our representative referred to the witness answers to highlight there was no actual evidence to corroborate the allegation.

He told the disciplinary hearing although Ernie admitted making the comment, it was not said with any malice and it was a phrase widely used and heard when he was younger. It was added consideration had to be given to the context in which it was used, as it was not directed at the employee.

The hearing was told how it was said was effectively a case of Ernie’s word against that of the worker, and there was clearly no corroboration one way or another.

Our representative, referring to employment law, said in such circumstances employers do not have to believe one employee and disbelieve another, and the alleged wrongdoer should be given the benefit of any doubt in these situations.

The hearing was told Ernie had reflected on the case and taken appropriate learning from it, which should provide an assurance he would not be involved in a similar matter in future.

It was added he was also remorseful and the allegation was completely out of character for an employee with more than a quarter-of-a-century of exemplary service. This was as part of a comprehensive response to the allegation.

After an adjournment to the hearing, Ernie was informed he had been cleared of the allegation.

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