Fixing the problem when the disciplinary process is unfair
Published 09 January 2019
It can be difficult for any employee to defend themselves against any allegation – and the situation is made worse if the allegation is taken at face value.
Following a customer complaint Pamela, who worked at a DIY store, was encouraged to resign by her employer, summoned to attend a disciplinary hearing and warned she faced the prospect of dismissal if the allegation was considered proven.
A customer complained that Pamela mocked and ridiculed him when dealing with his query about laminate flooring. He claimed this left him feeling insulted and humiliated in front of his wife.
The customer later sent his complaint via email to the store manager. He claimed Pamela derided his lack of DIY skills and also joked with his wife about him behind his back.
During the disciplinary investigation process Pamela was able to recall the incident. She strongly denied the customer’s allegation when she attended an investigation meeting.
Pamela explained that when she asked the customer about the measurements for the flooring he could not answer. The customer’s wife made a joke about it being women who are supposed to be hopeless at DIY, and Pamela laughed along with her.
While Pamela was speaking to his wife the customer walked along the aisle and spoke to a male member of staff. Pamela continued speaking to his wife and pair shared light-hearted chatter as the customer was being assisted.
When the customer walked back to where the women were speaking Pamela said he completely ignored her when she spoke to him, and he was rude to his wife. She thanked Pamela for the lovely chat and joked again about getting her husband to get his measurements right.
Pamela was informed by her manager that the customer contradicted her version of events. Pamela’s boss said the customer claimed that while he was speaking to the male member of staff he could clearly hear her mocking him nearby and that he saw her pointing at him a number of times.
The manager advised Pamela it was a serious matter as the man was well respected locally. He said it would be better if Pamela resigned because being dismissed was going to harm her chances of getting another job.
Pamela contacted the Castle Associates employee support centre for help.
She advised our representative that CCTV should be available, which would help her disprove the customer’s claim that she pointed and laughed at him. Pamela also said that her colleague could also confirm the allegation was not true.
Our representative referred to the ACAS Code of Practice in his request for the colleague to attend the hearing as a witness. He also requested a copy of the CCTV footage.
The employer arranged for the worker to attend the hearing as a witness, but claimed that no footage was available.
At the hearing our representative highlighted that the customer’s complaint was not corroborated. It was simply accepted and not questioned or explored as can reasonably be expected as part of a thorough and fair investigation if dismissal is a possibility.
He also made the point that the customer’s wife was a crucial witness but there was not a witness statement from her. Our representative also queried if the handling of the complaint was in keeping with the company’s complaint procedure.
He questioned the member of staff who attended the hearing as a witness. The witness confirmed the customer did not know the measurements for the flooring and they spoke about the different types of flooring. He said he did not hear Pamela and the customer’s wife laughing and joking in the way alleged and that they were nearby.
Our representative asserted that as there was no evidence to substantiate the customer complaint and the only witness supported Pamela’s version of events it would be reasonable to give her the benefit of any doubt and clear her, which the company later did.
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