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A disciplinary warning that felt like a low blow

Published: 

Wed 7 August, 2019

Cartoon boxing gloves

A disciplinary warning that felt like a low blow

When CCTV evidence of Seb knocking a colleague to the floor was played at his disciplinary hearing he felt sickened.

The footage showed the sales consultant landing a single blow to the face of a workmate who then fell backwards. He was stunned but not hurt.

Seb claimed he was acting in self-defence after being subjected to relentless verbal abuse, being pushed and hit first.

He claimed his reaction was one of panic and fear caused by ongoing bullying from his colleague.

Witness evidence confirmed that Seb had been mocked, teased and taunted about his personal life before the incident.

It became violent after he told his colleague to go away in very blunt terms with the use of some expletives.

The company accepted that there was mitigation in the case, and that Seb acted in self-defence.

Physical violence is normally an act that if proven can be considered gross misconduct with dismissal a potential - although not automatic - outcome with such a finding.

Seb was still very upset when he was issued with a final written warning following his disciplinary hearing.

He felt the disciplinary warning he had been issued with was harsh given the facts of the case. He contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for advice.

When Seb met with our representative he explained that the working relationship with the colleague had become strained after he ended a relationship with a female relative of his workmate.

His colleague challenged him about it and later sent a number of menacing text and social media messages. Seb brushed them off, but did say he felt threatened and intimidated by the messages.

He still had the messages, but said he was told at the disciplinary hearing that they were irrelevant. Seb said he did contemplate submitting a formal grievance against his colleague, but thought better of it.

Seb, who is teetotal, said the colleague who he struck was drunk, being loud and obnoxious to other members of the sales team and was warned repeatedly about his conduct.

Seb made it clear to our representative that he wished to appeal against the warning, but needed help writing a letter to start the disciplinary appeals process

Our representative wrote an appeal letter and submitted it on behalf of Seb. In the letter he also requested extended CCTV footage of the time prior to the incident. Time was put aside at the start of the appeal hearing for Seb and our representative to review the footage, which they did.

At the appeal hearing out representative argued the final warning was too severe given the significant mitigation in the case.

The new CCTV footage showed the other worker was unsteady of his feet and involved in an altercation with others.

The threatening messages Seb’s colleague had sent to him were also presented at the hearing. Our representative asserted that they included serious threats of violence.

The appeal hearing was told that as a result of those messages Seb was in genuine fear for his safety when he was struck first. It was added that he acted in self-defence, had not been drinking and was clear headed and had a reasonable belief his colleague intended to cause him real harm.

Our representative also pointed out that the colleague’s behaviour towards Seb met the definition of bullying. He said that given this, the fact the he struck Seb first and had not apparently been disciplined showed an inconsistent approach to physical violence and disciplinary matters and made the issuing of the warning unfair.

It was explained that Seb was remorseful and willing to meet with his colleague for mediation and to clear the air if the warning was removed from his record.

Our representative maintained that in the circumstances it was the logical way forward and one he would expect a reasonable employer to take.

Seb’s appeal was successful. The warning was reduced to an informal warning and he also took part in mediation sessions with his colleague, which appear to have worked.

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