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Case Studies

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When writing an email spells disciplinary trouble for an employee

Published 15 May 2018

For an employee facing disciplinary action based on an incident that occurred a while ago it is likely to come as a shock.

So you can imagine Carlton’s horror when he was invited to a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of sending inappropriate emails to a female colleague – six months earlier.

The issue only came to light when Carlton, a product demonstrator based in London, was the subject of a different investigation involving the same colleague.

The colleague had submitted a formal grievance against Carlton which alleged that he was a bully. He was shocked, and he denied the allegation but he was suspended from work.

When interviewed as part of a disciplinary investigation Carlton admitted that the working relationship with his colleague was not the best, and he blamed her for any problems

Carlton was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.  However, he was told that he would remain on suspension as new evidence against him had come to light during the course of the investigation.

That new evidence was four emails he had sent to his colleague many months earlier. Carlton was then invited to attend a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of unprofessional conduct and communication in the workplace.

Carlton was rightly concerned and he contacted the Castle Associates employee support centre for help.

Our representative was surprised to be informed that Carlton had not been provided with copies of the emails by his employer.

It was pointed out to the company that this is breach of the ACAS Code of Practice, as the employee should be provided with all of the evidence in advance of the hearing in order so that they have reasonable time to prepare a response.

The company eventually provided copies of the emails, but it did not make clear why it considered the correspondence to be inappropriate.

The language was not abusive, inappropriate or offensive. He did not send any rude images or attachments or unsuitable links with the emails. The emails were plain text and about work-related matters.

Our representative sought clarification.  She was informed the emails were inappropriate because they did not open with a greeting such as hi or hello and instead used just the recipient’s name. One email was considered rude as it refereed to the recipient by name three times in the body of the email.

At the hearing our representative argued that formal disciplinary action was an overreaction and unfair based on the evidence, which did not include a statement or complaint the colleague who received the emails.

Carlton was also able to provide our representative with additional emails he had sent the colleague that opened with hi and others from his colleague to him which opened with just his name and referred to him by his name in the body of the emails.

It was argued that if disciplinary action is being taken against Carlton, but not his colleague for doing the same thing, then he is being unfairly singled out, the company is not acting consistently and Carlton can justifiably assert that he feels victimised.

The employer was encouraged to address any concerns about email style in an informal manner and additional training for all staff if it felt this was necessary. Reference was made to the company’s own disciplinary policy, which made it clear that the process is intended to correct concerns about behaviour rather than to punish.

Carlton was relieved that the company took this approach and that it cleared of any wrongdoing.

 

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