How the wrong information can cause serious disciplinary problems
Published 29 April 2020
Every employee should know the importance of protecting sensitive company data and be fully aware of the risks of failing to do so.
Confidential business information generally refers to information whose disclosure may harm the business.
That can include sales and marketing plans, customer and supplier information, financial data and more.
So, Susan an office worker at a building supplies firm, was understandably concerned when she contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help.
She was accused of ‘a serious data protection breach’ by bosses at the company where she had worked for four years.
The incident occurred after Susan was originally suspended from work for the theft of building materials.
The company alerted police after it discovered items had been stolen, and had been taken over, a considerable period of time.
A police investigation later cleared Susan of any involvement in the thefts. However, the company, as it is entitled to do, believed it appropriate to instigate disciplinary action against her.
Susan was sent an invite letter to a disciplinary hearing, which included witness statements from colleagues that implicated her and others in the thefts.
She had protested her innocence throughout. Susan was understandably shocked to be invited to a disciplinary hearing, especially after being cleared by the police.
Susan had the right to be accompanied at the disciplinary hearing. She asked a long-serving colleague if he would support her at the meeting. He agreed and she provided him with the evidence of the case against her.
He later went off work sick and Susan attended the hearing on her own. She was relieved to be cleared of any wrongdoing. But her nightmare was far from over.
At the end of the hearing Susan was informed that she would remain on suspension as a new allegation had come to light.
Witnesses in her case had been approached about their statements. Susan was told she was responsible, and it was considered a serious data protection breach for disclosing confidential business information in the form of witness statements.
The colleague who was supposed to accompany Susan at the disciplinary hearing had contacted witnesses about their statements and challenged them about what they said.
Susan insisted that she was not responsible for his actions and should not be blamed. She was told that a disciplinary investigation will decide if there is a case to answer.
The investigation decided that there was a case to answer. Susan was invited to a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of a serious data protection breach.
This time she contacted Castle Associates for help. At the hearing our representative argued that Susan’s action in providing her colleague with the witness statements was reasonable.
Our representative said she had a statutory right to be accompanied at the hearing and as she is entitled to, opted to be by a colleague. He said she had informed the company of her choice of companion prior to the hearing and it did not object or raise a concern.
It was pointed out that her colleague needed to review the evidence to properly support Susan at the hearing. It was said she cannot reasonably, and should not, be held responsible for what he subsequently did with that information.
Our representative maintained that in any event disclosure of the information cannot reasonably be considered a data protection breach, given the nature of the information and the fact there was no evidence to suggest it was viewed by anyone other than someone entitled to see that information.
The disciplinary hearing chair appeared fixated with the previous theft allegation. Our representative had to repeatedly remind the chair that Susan had been cleared and it was not the focus of the hearing.
Susan was asked a number of questions about the alleged data breach. The following week Susan received a letter informing her the allegation had been dismissed.
Susan’s desire was always to clear her name and leave the company. After receiving the outcome she immediately submitted her resignation.
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