It’s unfortunate, but a sad reality that work colleagues will not always get on.
When behaviour which would be embarrassing if it was witnessed in a school playground makes its way into the workplace, it can have serious consequences for all concerned.
While our representatives are experts in disciplinary and grievance matters they can also spot when a different approach, such as mediation or a settlement agreement, may be the best resolution to a problem.
Cilla and a female colleague at the Staffordshire call centre where they both worked were good friends.
But when Cilla posted a jokey comment about a Facebook picture of her and the dishevelled-looking colleague taken on a Saturday night out, the friendship took a turn for the worse.
The colleague sent Cilla a WhatsApp message calling her an offensive four-letter name, which was spelt out in capital letters complete with exclamation mark.
Cilla apologised for any offence caused, but received a string of abusive messages in response. Furious Cilla responded with equally offensive messages.
When the pair returned to work Cilla approached her colleague. Cilla stood in front of her colleague, who remained sitting at her desk throughout, and let her colleague know what she thought about her in a raised voice.
The team leader intervened. Cilla was later informed her colleague had felt threatened and had made a formal complaint.
Cilla admitted raising her voice and provided the background to the incident. She was suspended her from work.
Cilla was later invited to attend a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of repeated acts of rudeness to a colleague and harassment.
The evidence against Cilla was made up mainly of offensive WhatsApp messages she had sent to her colleague. The full message exchange was not provided.
The letter inviting Cilla to the hearing warned that if proven the allegations may amount to gross misconduct and result in dismissal.
Cilla contacted the Castle Associates employee support centre for advice. Our representative reviewed the case, and he was also provided with the full message exchange between Cilla and her colleague.
He advised Cilla that she should raise a formal grievance. It was based on grounds that included the disciplinary process was unfair as the company was being selective in the evidence provided, and Cilla had also been subjected to behaviour that could be considered repeated acts of rudeness.
Our representative asked for the disciplinary process to be suspended in accordance with the ACAS Code of Practice until the grievance was heard, investigated and resolved. The company insisted it would hear the cases concurrently.
At the grievance hearing our representative argued that if the colleague had made a formal complaint against Cilla, it should be treated as a grievance. He pointed out that the company grievance procedure encourages an informal approach to resolve complaints, and as this had not been attempted Cilla justifiably felt victimised.
Our representative also provided the full message exchange, including the first offensive message sent by the colleague and subsequent abusive messages she had sent to Cilla.
Cilla just wanted to be able to clear the air with her colleague and resolve the matter. Our representative used this to encourage the company to attempt mediation as a solution.
He pointed out that if it did not work, then it is not unreasonable to expect similar disciplinary action to be taken against the colleague, which does not help either of the women involved, or the company.
At the end of the grievance hearing there was a lengthy discussion about the best way forward. The grievance chair was encouraged by our representative to speak to the colleague before proceeding with the disciplinary case.
The chair agreed to do so, and the colleague agreed to mediation. The disciplinary allegations against Cilla were dropped.
The following year when the colleague’s daughter was christened, Cilla was chosen as her godmother.