Experienced call handler Bev dealt with many difficult calls without incident or complaint during a decade working in a call centre.
When told she would be invited to attend a disciplinary hearing to face allegations of abusive behaviour to a customer and for bringing the company into disrepute, she was devastated.
The call in question was recorded so there was no argument about what was said.
When Bev attended a fact finding meeting during the disciplinary investigation stage of the process, she admitted the allegations.
During that meeting she said the call brought back painful memories and her life was a mess at the moment. The investigating manager never questioned or explored those comments, and that was to prove significant later in this case.
When put through to Bev the caller appeared not to realise he had been connected. He could be heard shouting and swearing at a female in the background.
After realising Bev was on the line he spoke to her, she enquired if everything was ok, he said it was none of her business, and she dealt with his enquiry. At the end of the call Bev suggested the caller may want to get some help to deal with his anger.
He swore at Bev and was verbally abusive. She was shocked, blunt and abrupt in return, told him his language was unacceptable and that she was going to terminate the call, which she did.
Bev reported the call to her manager immediately. The company said the customer had lodged a formal complaint. Bev was suspended from work, told there would be an investigation and that she would be invited to a disciplinary hearing.
While still on suspension Bev was sent a letter, which informed her that following her ‘disciplinary hearing’ she had been issued with a final written warning.
Bev who had acted in her capacity as a workmate to accompany colleagues at disciplinary hearings previously, knew this was not right.
When she complained, Bev was told that she admitted the allegations at the fact finding meeting, the evidence was irrefutable and so there was no need to hold a disciplinary hearing. She was advised to appeal if she was unhappy.
Bev submitted an appeal letter and then contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help.
Prior to the appeal hearing our representative requested a list of information from the company. It included a copy of the customer complaint, evidence of the company being brought into disrepute and the disciplinary policy.
In response the employer only provided the disciplinary policy. At the appeal hearing our representative argued the issuing of the warning was unfair as the company did not conduct a fair disciplinary process, follow its own disciplinary process or the ACAS Code of Practice.
He told the appeal hearing that this denied Bev an opportunity to explain the significant mitigation in the case, which she had alluded to at the investigation meeting but it was never explored and therefore considered.
The company was aware that Bev had been a victim of domestic violence many years ago. The phone call brought back memories of that. This was at a time when she was dealing with a serious health scare, which she admitted that she had kept to herself. The appeal chair was given a copy of a hospital letter to support this.
Our representative added that the company had not produced evidence to show that the customer ever lodged a formal complaint, or that the company was ever brought into disrepute.
Details of Bev’s exemplary work record and awards she had won were presented to the appeal hearing chair. It was acknowledged that Bev let her usually high professional standards slip during the call, for which she apologised.
The hearing was told that given her long-service, exemplary disciplinary record, the behaviour being out of character, the remorse shown and appropriate learning being taken from the matter the sanction was too severe.
The original decision to issue a final written warning was eventually overturned. It was decided the matter was better dealt with using an informal warning, an informal chat and words of advice.
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