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The presumption of innocent until proven guilty lost in an unfair disciplinary process

Published 20 September 2023

When Sean was originally arrested for a serious crime his employer initially appeared to be supportive - before a change of heart left him fighting to save his job.

He was arrested by police targeting fraudsters who had stolen thousands of pounds from members of the public.

A number of people including Sean, a bakery operative, were later charged with a range of offences. He was released on bail.

Sean, who had four years’ service, protested his innocence but his employer understandably concerned about the situation suspend him from work.

He claimed he was verbally assured his employer would await the trial verdict before launching its own disciplinary investigation.

It took months for a trial date to be set and before the case could be heard in court. The employer, after initially showing patience, suddenly decided it would not wait to act.

This later led Sean to contact our Employee Support Centre for help with the case.

He did so because he felt he was being treated unreasonably, and he was convinced his employer was trying to dismiss him unfairly.

Sean discussed the case with our representative. He explained he had attended a disciplinary hearing, which was adjourned when he raised concerns about the process.

He had been invited via letter to a meeting with his manager and the HR manager, which was titled ‘catch-up.’

At the start of the meeting Sean was informed it was a disciplinary hearing and that the title of the meeting was an administrative error.

Sean was told a couple of clients were threatening to withdraw their ‘significant’ business if he was not dismissed.

Shocked Sean queried how clients would be aware he worked for the bakery given his role and fact he had no direct contact with them.

He questioned the action being taken because of the previous assurance no action would be taken until after the trial.

The employer denied he was given such an assurance and said as the complaints were in writing and serious it was duty bound to act now.

The HR manager refused to share the complaints with Sean. He was told the meeting was arranged to hear what he had to say before a decision was made about his future employment.

Sean asked for the process to be stopped to allow him to seek advice. He was told if he did not continue a decision would be made in his absence.

However, after some further discussion the hearing was adjourned and Sean later contacted us.

Our representative advised Sean to raise a grievance due to the unjust manner in which he was being treated.

The grievance letter included, that the disciplinary process was unfair and did not adhere to the ACAS Code of Practice, and that Sean was denied his statutory right to be accompanied at a disciplinary hearing.

The employer agreed to hear the grievance. Prior to the hearing Sean discussed his desired grievance outcome with our representative.

Sean wanted his employer to stick to the assurance, he was adamant he was given, that no action would be taken until after the trial, and to keep his job and return to work after clearing his name in court.

Our representative told the grievance hearing the disciplinary process conducted was grossly unfair, and the reasoning and motivation for it highly questionable and concerning.

The lack of tangible evidence of any complaints, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the fact the allegations had no relation to Sean’s work were referred to in a compelling and comprehensive argument to urge the employer to await the outcome of the court case, as it initially indicated it would. It was asserted this would be prudent and fair in the circumstances.

The employer said it would consider what had been presented. Many months passed and Sean continued to be paid, but heard nothing about his grievance or the disciplinary case prior to his trial taking place.

Sean was found not guilty after a crown court trial. His suspension was later lifted and he was allowed to return to work.

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