Making the right call with a disciplinary case
Published 13 July 2023
When paint sprayer Zoltan swore at his boss and was aggressive towards him in front of witnesses, he was convinced his fate was sealed. Hungarian born Zoltan snapped when told to stop talking in his native tongue while getting a health update on his elderly mother, who was seriously ill in hospital in his homeland. He was suspended from work despite the fact he apologised immediately and tried to explain his actions. Zoltan had only been in the job for about 13 months, when he was invited to a disciplinary hearing to face allegations of insulting and aggressive behaviour, insubordination and breaching the mobile phone use policy. Witness statements from three colleagues confirmed he acted in the manner alleged. Zoltan explained at a fact-finding meeting, held during the disciplinary investigation, that he feared his mum may die and he was getting an update from his aunt in Hungary, and she does not speak English. He accepted his behaviour was out of order and apologised repeatedly. Zoltan contacted our Employee Support Centre just before he was due to attend the disciplinary hearing. He accepted what he had done was wrong but was desperate not to lose his job, although he expected to. The evidence against Zoltan was pretty conclusive. It confirmed he was asked a number of times to put the phone down, did swear, was aggressive and did breach the mobile phone use policy. But our representative felt that while Zoltan’s actions were wrong, he only snapped after being subjected to what could be discrimination because of his race. Two of the witnesses in varying words, said it was only after the manager said words to the effect of ‘stop speaking in that language’ that Zoltan lost his cool. Our representative learnt the manager had previously told foreign workers it was company policy that they could only speak English at work. In light of this, a decision was taken to raise a grievance, as Zoltan being Hungarian, and speaking the language, was an aggravating factor in the disciplinary case. Our representative requested the employer suspend the disciplinary process in accordance with the ACAS Code of Practice in order to address the grievance first. The employer agreed to do so. Our representative used the grievance hearing to argue Zoltan had suffered discrimination because of his race, was treated unfairly and the disciplinary process should be reviewed and dismissed. Prior to the grievance hearing our representative requested a copy of the policy requiring employees to only speak English at work. There was no such policy. Our representative also requested from Zoltan names of employees who could confirm the manager gave the speak English only order. Those names were provided to the grievance hearing chair so he could verify the claim. The hearing was told, the instruction issued by the manager was discriminatory because it could not be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. It was explained the only way Zoltan could get an update on his seriously ill mother was to speak Hungarian, because his aunt cannot speak English. Our representative said he only took the telephone call in work because of serious concerns about his mum’s ailing health. The evidence provided by witnesses supported Zoltan was leaving the workshop to continue the call when his path was blocked and he was confronted by the manager. Our representative said Zoltan’s concerns, state of mind at the time and the discriminatory comment by his boss caused him to act out of character. It was added that he deeply regretted it and apologises. An impassioned case was presented by our representative to assert the disciplinary case should be dismissed as a result of aggravating factors in what occurred. He made clear that Zoltan was prepared to work with the employer to informally address all matters arising from his grievance and the disciplinary case. The grievance hearing later resulted in a recommendation that the disciplinary allegations against Zoltan be dismissed.