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Unnecessary pain caused by a hurtful disciplinary process

Published 18 January 2023

After courageous Niamh raised serious concerns about colleagues at work, she was justified in feeling aggrieved when she was the one left fighting to save her job The dental assistant reported two dentists for poor hygiene standards. She did so on a number of occasions, both verbally and in writing. But no evident action was taken in response.

 Desperate Niamh later told her manager that she had mobile phone recordings and if nothing were done she would send them to the General Dental Council or press. The practice manager assured Niamh he would deal with the matter straightaway. The same day Niamh was summoned to a meeting with the manager and owner of the dental practice.

She was ordered to hand over her phone, but steadfastly refused to do so. Shocked Niamh was then suspended from work for insubordination and breaching the mobile phone policy.

 Niamh was acutely aware she was in a perilous position. She had only worked at the dental practice for nine months and feared being dismissed because she had under two years’ service.

 But when Niamh spoke to our Employee Support Centre, she was told she could be considered a whistle-blower.

 An employee can make an unfair dismissal claim to an employment tribunal if they are dismissed for an ‘automatically unfair’ reason e.g. whistle-blowing, regardless of their length of service.

 Our representative discussed the case with Niamh. She explained how she genuinely felt threatened, intimidated and afraid by the behaviour of the owner and her manager when she refused to give them her phone.

Niamh first spoke to our representative after she was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing, following the conclusion of an investigation conducted by the dental practice manager.

The disciplinary hearing was due to be chaired by the owner of the practice. Our representative felt there was evidence to demonstrate Niamh had been treated unfavourably as a whistle-blower and that the disciplinary process was unfair

The practice manager and owner were central figures in the unfair treatment of Niamh and now playing key roles in a process that could lead to her dismissal.

On the back of this the decision was taken for Niamh to raise a grievance.

The grievance was on grounds that included unfavourable treatment for whistle-blowing after reporting matters that posed a health and safety risk to patients, and being put through an unfair disciplinary process.  Our representative requested the disciplinary process be suspended until the grievance was addressed. The practice initially refused to do so in its response sent via email.

After an exchange of further correspondence the practice agreed, to appoint an independent HR advisor, to deal with the grievance prior to the disciplinary hearing taking place.

Niamh’s desire with the grievance was for her concerns to be taken seriously, and to be allowed to leave because she had lost all trust and confidence in the ownership and management of the practice.

Our representative did a thorough presentation of all matters in support of the grievance. During it he explained Niamh made the recordings out of sheer frustration after being ignored despite repeatedly reporting her concerns in the correct way.

The hearing was told, that regardless of how the recordings were obtained, the focus should be on what was recorded and danger posed to members of the public.

Copies of emails in which Niamh had reported hygiene concerns were also provided. And it was fully explained why the disciplinary process was unfair.

The HR advisor confirmed the dentists in question no longer worked at the practice. She would not elaborate further, but assured Niamh ‘appropriate action’ had now been taken.

The grievance hearing led to a later discussion about a settlement agreement to resolve the case.  The terms of it were later negotiated and agreed.

It allowed Niamh to leave in a manner she was happy with, and with the peace of mind her concerns had finally been dealt with.

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