Case Studies

Case Studies

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Working to make the message clear when there is no evidence of wrongdoing

Published 30 December 2019

Working to make the message clear when there is no evidence of wrongdoing

Most of us will take responsibility for our own actions but to be blamed for wrongdoing by others and left fighting to save your job as a result is a bit hard to take.

From time-to-time we will all say things that we regret and wish to take back. The problem with messages sent on mobile phones is that what is written is not always that easy to take back,

When Mike contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre he was in desperate need of help after being accused of presiding over a culture of bullying by his bosses as a result of a WhatsApp group he set up for workmates.

An employee at the car parts manufacturer where Mike had worked for five years resigned, when facing allegations of theft, and claimed that she had been bullied in the group chats. The ex-employee alleged she was subjected to discrimination because she was a woman.

As part of her complaint she provided management with screenshots of messages. Bosses at the factory understandably took the allegation seriously and launched an immediate investigation.

It initially led to one male member of staff, who had bluntly questioned in the group chat what she knew about rugby when she was a woman, being suspended from work.

As part of the subsequent investigation Mike was interviewed. He said he set-up the group for colleagues to interact, share and discuss things and there were 20 employees in the group.

Mike confirmed that he had seen the alleged offensive comment but felt the matter had been resolved in the following exchanges between the two.

The employee who sent the message was later dismissed, said he was going to pursue a case for unfair dismissal, but nothing further was heard about it.

Shortly afterwards Mike was called into his manager’s office with a HR advisor present. He was presented with various screenshots from the WhatsApp group and asked about messages and the use of foul and abusive language.

He explained it was banter and the language was that used in the workplace by both managers and staff.

Mike was asked about a particular message in which the female who had complained was referred to as an offensive name once used to describe disabled people, but now commonly used by young people to describe someone who does something stupid or idiotic.

Mike pointed out that the term was commonly used and not meant to be offensive.

He was informed that because he set up the group and was the administrator and had not acted to stop the use of inappropriate and offensive behaviour he had failed to act to prevent a colleague being bullied.

Mike was suspended from work and later invited to attend a disciplinary hearing.

At the hearing our representative used the evidence presented by the employer to undermine the case against Mike.

It was highlighted that members of management were part of the group, failed to report any concern and one had even commented in relation to the allegation, but as no one else  was being disciplined for failing to report any inappropriate comments Mike was being unfairly singled out.

Mike also provided additional messages, not provided by the employer, which included the female complainant making an offensive comment about another employee’s sexuality.

It was explained that such comments were in keeping with the nature of the group at that time. It was pointed out that Mike had reflected on matters and would act on concerns raised with him now that he is fully aware of them. It was argued that he should be given a reasonable opportunity to address any concerns.

It was also pointed out that there had not been a specific complaint against Mike and there appeared to be no breach of any company policy.

Mike was later cleared of any wrongdoing and he opted to close the WhatsApp group.

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For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611

 

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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