New rules but same old problem with an unfair disciplinary process.
Published 06 January 2021
Restaurant worker Sheena was suspended from work for breaching new social distancing guidelines during the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
It was after a diner complained that on a number of occasions Sheena had been too close to her and her family.
The restaurant manager reviewed CCTV taken from inside the eatery, which has outlets across the country, before summoning Sheena to his office. She was shown two short clips of footage.
Sheena immediately apologised, said the venue was too busy, social distancing was impossible and all staff had complained about it.
The manager assured Sheena it would be considered in the disciplinary investigation.
When the restaurant reopened after lockdown, Sheena returned nearly two weeks later after being forced to self-isolate.
She did not receive a formal briefing or the training her colleagues did when the restaurant reopened.
Sheena was on suspension for six weeks before receiving an invite to a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of contravention of health and safety rules, namely a failure to ensure social distancing is adhered to.
The letter warned dismissal was a potential outcome. The only evidence provided with the letter was a copy of a complaint email from the customer and a statement from the manager who suspended Sheena.
Worried Sheena contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help.
Sheena was unable to meet with our representative face-to-face because of government restrictions in place at the time.
She emailed him the relevant information and they discussed the case at length via video conferencing app Zoom.
After doing so our representative advised Sheena that although he could understand the employer’s concerns, he agreed with her that she was being treated unfairly.
It was based on the limited CCTV evidence, lack of training re Covid-19 guidelines on her return to work, unreasonable delay to the process and the lack of information to demonstrate that a full and proper investigation had taken place.
Based on this a formal grievance was submitted on Sheena’s behalf. The grounds for the grievance was essentially that she was being treated unfairly and felt victimised.
In the grievance letter our representative requested that the disciplinary process be suspended in accordance with section 46 of the ACAS Code of Practice.
He asserted it was the prudent way forward, as if the grievance was upheld, or partly upheld, it would have significant ramifications for the disciplinary process.
The company agreed to postpone the disciplinary process and resolve the grievance first.
Prior to the grievance hearing our representative requested further CCTV footage be made available for review at the grievance hearing.
He used it to point out that the employer had allowed too many people in the restaurant, and add that it put both staff and diners at risk. He argued that sticking to social distancing at all times was impossible based on the numbers inside the venue.
He also used the footage to highlight other members of staff failing to social distance, and to assert they have not been disciplined in the same way as Sheena.
Among a host of other points to support Sheena’s case he raised the lack of training upon her return to work and the failure in the investigation to speak to other members of staff about the situation.
Our representative pointed out Sheena was keen to work with management to ensure she was fully trained and to avoid a similar situation in future.
He said this along with all of the points raised in support of the grievance should be considered and the disciplinary case stopped
The regional manager chairing the hearing was defensive of the restaurant at first, but eventually swayed by our representative’s representations. He said he could not stop the disciplinary process.
Our representative acknowledged that, but pointed out that he was in a position where he is able to make a recommendation that it should be stopped.
The hearing was adjourned. Two days later Sheena was invited to return to work and informed the disciplinary case had been dropped.