Whether criticism of a work colleague is ever justified or not, it can cause serious problems.
Shannon was going through the redundancy consultation process when allegations of undermining a colleague and bringing the college where she worked into disrepute were levelled against her.
It was clear to Shannon after her first consultation meeting that her role was going to be made redundant.
The college was going to make an enhanced redundancy payment rather than the statutory redundancy payment for those selected.
Shannon, who had over 10 years’ service, feared she would receive nothing if she was dismissed before the redundancy process was concluded.
Worried Shannon knew how ruthless management could be in such situations. She had witnessed and heard of staff being dismissed unfairly.
Concerned Shannon contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help with her case.
When Shannon spoke to our representative she was very clear about the outcome she wanted.
Shannon genuinely believed the allegations were designed to get rid of her to avoid paying redundancy.
Fortunately Shannon had already secured another teaching role. But she was desperate to ensure she received what she was entitled to from the college.
Shannon discussed her case with our representative. She explained the allegations stem from a WhatsApp message exchange with a male colleague.
In the exchanges Shannon criticised another female colleague for her generous marking of tests.
Shannon’s colleague claimed he was concerned about the messages she sent him, and he alerted management.
It led to Shannon initially being suspended from work prior to an investigation taking place.
Shannon was invited to a disciplinary hearing to face allegations of making a colleague feel undermined and of bringing the college into disrepute.
The WhatsApp messages was the main evidence being used against Shannon. The only witness statement provided was from the male workmate Shannon swapped the messages with.
Shannon was keen to play an active part in responding to the allegations, which is always welcomed by our representatives.
She had prepared evidence to support her case. It included email correspondence with members of management and documents, which confirmed the colleague in question had been spoken to about her marking of tests.
Prior to the hearing our representative requested evidence of the college being brought into disrepute by Shannon’s actions.
The HR advisor for the college confirmed there was no actual evidence, but that Shannon’s behaviour had the potential to bring the college into disrepute.
At the disciplinary hearing Shannon presented her evidence and argued that what she said was correct and reflected in communication with management.
Our representative told the hearing there was actually no evidence to support the stated allegations.
He pointed out there was no evidence from the colleague Shannon referred to, that showed she in fact felt undermined as alleged.
Our representative challenged the disciplinary hearing chair and HR advisor about if Shannon’s workmate was aware of what had been written. The HR advisor confirmed she was aware, and very upset by it.
Our representative pointed out if the employee had been spoken to as part of the investigation, and her evidence used to justify taking action against Shannon, then there should be a witness statement.
He asserted that failing to provide it was unfair and a breach of the ACAS Code of Practice, which all employers are advised to follow.
In addition to this he highlighted that the college had confirmed there was no evidence of it being brought into disrepute.
The disciplinary hearing chair asserted it was reasonable to say the employee was undermined without a statement from her and that Shannon’s actions had the ‘potential’ to bring the college into disrepute.
Our representative told the hearing it was stated as fact in the allegation that Shannon had brought the college into disrepute. He said there is a requirement in employment law for an employer to be clear about any allegation it wishes to put to Shannon.
He said the college had been expressly clear about the allegations, it has effectively admitted that there is no evidence to support the stated allegations, and any attempt to shift the goalposts was unfair.
It was a fractious and lengthy hearing, which eventually got around to a discussion about Shannon’s desired outcome.
It led to her being cleared of the allegations and being offered redundancy, which was her ideal outcome.
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