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A disciplinary process is never an open-and-shut case

Published: 

Wed 10 April, 2019

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A disciplinary process is never an open-and-shut case

It can be overwhelming for an employee to have any disciplinary allegation levelled against them.

When there are numerous apparently serious allegations and vast documents to support them, the prospect of having to defend yourself against it is daunting.

What made matters worse for IT worker Davina was that in her case she admitted one of the allegations, but categorically denied any other wrongdoing.

Having worked for the company for 11 years she had seen many people come and go.

In recent times Davina was aware that one former colleague had won a case for unfair dismissal, because it was reported in the local newspaper.

While another ex-worker appeared to breach the confidentiality clause of his apparent settlement agreement in revealing to Davina that he was paid a substantial five-figure sum after he left under a cloud.

So, Davina understandably feared the worse when she first learned of the allegations against her.

They included vague claims such as a failure to: provide management information for the business in good time; establish good working relationships with colleagues; meet deadlines; take ownership of tasks and lack of commitment to the business.

There was one allegation of taking a colleague’s property without permission, which Davina admitted. She borrowed a colleague’s laptop case when her workmate was off and she forgot to return it. Davina only remembered she had it when the colleague complained that he could not find it.

Davina was initially invited to attend a disciplinary hearing and sent a bundle of documents to support a total of eight allegations.

She felt overwhelmed as she could not make sense of information. It was also unclear what evidence related to which allegation.

Davina wished to exercise her right to be accompanied at the disciplinary hearing.

She initially asked a senior colleague for help, but he reviewed the evidence and advised her she needed expert help because the case was confusing and unclear.

Davina then contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help.

After reviewing the case our representative contacted the employer to request clarification in regards to the allegations, and which parts of the vast evidence supported which allegations.

The response from the HR advisor was that the evidence supported all of the allegations, and any further clarification can be sought at the hearing.

In subsequent email correspondence our representative contended that this was a breach of the ACAS Code of Practice.

The company was told that the failure to provide clarification and sufficient information in advance of the disciplinary hearing was denying Davina reasonable time to prepare her case, which can be considered a breach of the Code.

The employer did not respond to this. After two days our representative chased it up.

Later the same day Davina was sent a ‘revised’ disciplinary invite. It contained just one allegation of taking a colleague’s property without permission, which could be considered an act of theft and if proven amount to gross misconduct.

At the disciplinary hearing it was explained that another workmate suggested Davina use the laptop case as it was not being used, and she could not find her own. Later on Davina, after finding her own case, simply forgot that she had it, for which she apologised.

It was asserted that no reasonable employer would ever consider it an act of theft. There was no policy in regards to matters such as this, and in addition both a colleague and manager knew that Davina was borrowing the case.

The disciplinary hearing chair said the allegation had to be taken seriously as Davina had admitted taking the case without permission of the person it belonged to.

However, following a break in the hearing Davina was cleared of any wrongdoing. She was given words of advice about what she should do in future if she ever wanted to borrow an item belonging to a colleague.

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