When helping a friend in need leads to disciplinary trouble
Published 11 September 2019
Work colleagues can be good friends and this does mean that we will sometimes do what we can to help if one has a serious problem.
Sylvia did not need asking twice when a desperate female co-worker, who she had worked alongside at the same hotel for over a decade, asked for her support with a formal grievance.
Her colleague had a disability, had lengthy periods of time off work sick and struggled in the workplace despite repeatedly asking the hotel manager for support.
The manager insisted he was doing all he could to help, and could not do any more. Unable to cope Sylvia’s colleague went off work sick again, before she submitted a grievance for disability discrimination.
Sylvia was interviewed as part of her workmate’s grievance investigation. She provided evidence to support the grievance.
Bizarrely, the grievance investigation was conducted by the hotel manager who was the subject of the complaint. Unsurprisingly the grievance was not upheld. Sylvia’s colleague appealed and it was unsuccessful.
As she had been off work ill for a number of months it breached the absence management policy. The hotel manager invited her to a formal absence review meeting, and she asked Sylvia to accompany her.
At the meeting both Sylvia and her colleague asserted the absences are disability related and this should be considered. It was a heated meeting during which Sylvia was warned to be careful about the things she was saying.
The day after the meeting Sylvia was summoned to a meeting with an area manager. She was informed that her manager who chaired the absence review meeting, and who was subject of the earlier grievance complaint, had complained about her conduct during it.
He alleged that Sylvia was rude, disruptive and prevented the meeting from taking place in the way it should have. He claimed that despite warning Sylvia about her conduct she persisted and refused to listen to reasonable management requests.
The area manager informed Sylvia that she would be suspended from work in order to allow an investigation to take place.
Sylvia insisted that she did not act in the way alleged. She protested that the manager was responsible for the unlawful treatment of her colleague and this was his attempt to dismiss her for supporting her friend and co-worker.
Sylvia was told she could raise those points during the subsequent investigation. She was later invited to attend a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of unprofessional conduct and refusing to follow management instructions. The only evidence against her was a statement from the hotel manager.
Sylvia was shocked and bewildered and the worry and stress made her ill. The hearing was postponed and rearranged a number of times before Sylvia was warned it would go ahead in her absence if she failed to attend again.
The day before the hearing a desperate Sylvia contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help. Our representative was able to speak to Sylvia and review all of the paperwork, evidence and details she provided prior to the disciplinary hearing.
At the hearing our representative argued that Sylvia had been subjected to discrimination as a result of victimisation for giving evidence to support her colleague’s complaint of disability discrimination.
He told the hearing had they had time this would have been raised as a grievance prior to the hearing, but he was raising it verbally as a grievance now and would follow this up in writing.
Our representative added that any apparent investigation was clearly unfair. As no notes of the absence review meeting have been provided, and they should have been taken in accordance with company policy, and Sylvia’s colleague, the only other person present at the meeting, was not asked for her version of events.
A lengthy discussion took place about the merits of the grievance and the disciplinary case. After adjourning the meeting to take advice, the disciplinary hearing chair announced that the case against Sylvia would be dropped.
When Sylvia returned to work a temporary manager was in place, before a new permanent manager later took over.
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