Wed 25 April, 2018
Our representatives have seen it all when it comes to disciplinary cases and what seems to be a recurring theme is employers disciplining staff based on flawed evidence.
Such cases cause an employee great suffering, extreme stress, ongoing anxiety and they are justifiably left feeling persecuted and victimised.
This is exactly how office worker Jenny felt after she was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing for the first time in her working career.
The logistics firm where she worked in the South East of England was concerned that workers were using too much time while in work to visit websites that were not work related.
The company introduced a new internet usage policy to tackle the problem. The policy allowed for limited personal use, but only during break times.
A couple of months later one of Jenny’s male colleagues was the first person to face disciplinary action for breaching it.
During his disciplinary hearing he complained he was being treated unfairly because everyone knew Jenny was by far the worst offender. He claimed she had bought concert tickets, done her shopping and updated social media profiles during work time.
Jenny was unaware of this at the time, and unbeknown to her the company started a disciplinary investigation into her internet usage.
When Jenny was called into her manager’s office she was asked to confirm she was aware of the internet usage policy, which she did. At that stage she was simply asked if she used the company internet for anything other than work.
Jenny was adamant that she had not done so after the new policy had been introduced, and any usage was restricted to her break times in accordance with the new policy.
Jenny admitted that prior to the introduction of the policy she had used the internet during work time for matters that were not work related, in the same way as many of her colleagues had done.
The following week Jenny was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of using the working day excessively for non-business related matters, which is a breach of the company’s internet policy.
Jenny was unaware of her right to be accompanied at a disciplinary hearing and she was understandably worried.
When Jenny was provided with a report of her internet usage she contacted the Castle Associates employee support centre for help.
It was clear from the dates on the evidence that nearly all of it related to personal internet usage before the policy was introduced. There was minimal evidence of some personal use after the policy was put in place.
At the disciplinary hearing our representative highlighted this. The only relevant evidence did not include times when the websites were accessed.
Our representative contended this was a significant flaw in the evidence as Jenny accepted using the computers during break times, in accordance with the policy.
In these situations it is not unusual for some employers faced with the uncomfortable fact that the disciplinary process is evidently unfair to attempt to move the goalposts.
The disciplinary hearing chair insisted the evidence showed excessive personal internet use prior to the policy introduction, which Jenny had admitted and therefore the decision would be based on that.
Our representative challenged this and made the case that any retrospective action would be grossly unfair. He maintained that unless the company was going to take similar action against all employees then Jenny would raise a formal grievance for being singled out.
Following a period of discussion with the employer and our representative it was agreed that no further action would be taken against Jenny.