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Facing disciplinary action because of a new policy


Mon 4 December, 2017

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To be the first person to face disciplinary action under a new rule is likely to leave any employee feeling victimised.

Any change to a workplace culture will usually take some getting used to, and with employees often being set in their ways it can be a shock.

Danielle worked at a Yorkshire-based production factory where staff would regularly check and use their mobile phones while at work or whenever they had quiet moment.

However, management felt that workers were being distracted and spending far too long on their phones and that they were sometimes doing so when they should be working.

It was hitting productivity, and to stamp this out bosses at the factory announced a blanket ban on the use of mobile phones in the workplace.

The new policy warned that anyone caught using their phone on site would be subject to disciplinary action. It can be difficult introducing a new policy and for an employer having the right HR support is essential.

Members of staff were vocal in voicing their objections. It was later clarified that employees could use their phones in the staff rooms and the canteen, but not when they should be working.

Danielle, who has elderly parents in poor health and young children, often checked her phone in case there was a family emergency for which she may be needed.

When Personal Telephone Use policy was introduced Danielle’s father had been in hospital in a serious condition for a number of weeks having suffered a brain injury. This was understandably an extremely worrying and stressful time for Danielle and her family.

Danielle emailed and later spoke to the factory manager at the time. She explained her situation and how she needed to be contactable at all times. Danielle said if she was not allowed to check her phone she would consider raising a formal grievance.

Her manager, who went off on long-term sick leave just days later, expressed sympathy. She said Danielle could keep her phone with her, but the arrangement was she could only check for updates and must not use it.

The manager also confirmed this in an email. The importance of getting the arrangement in writing would later prove crucial in this case.

The following week Danielle looked at her phone while working. The week after that her father was due to undergo an operation in the morning. The procedure was expected to take several hours. In the afternoon Danielle checked her phone for the time, as she does not wear a watch. She was worried about her dad and planned to call to find out how he was doing during her afternoon break.

Unbeknown to Danielle her supervisor had witnessed her looking at her phone on both occasions. The following day Danielle was handed a letter, which alleged she had breached the Personal Telephone Use policy.

Danielle attempted to tell her supervisor she was looking at and not using her phone, but was told to explain it at a disciplinary hearing.

Worried Danielle contacted Castle Associates employee support centre for help. Upon reviewing the case our representative had significant concerns about the policy and how it had been applied, the fairness of the process and the actions of the supervisor.

At the disciplinary hearing our representative argued that Danielle was not using her phone and had merely looked at it as agreed with the manager at the time. The email, referred to earlier, was used to show the arrangement that was put in place.

The representative was also able to use the supervisor’s statement to highlight that it confirmed Danielle only looked at her phone. In addition to this the policy also encouraged an initial informal approach to address any suspected breaches of the policy. It was pointed out the supervisor’s actions in not speaking to Danielle at the time denied her a reasonable opportunity to explain herself.

Danielle, who admits she is a constant worrier, was convinced she would be issued with a formal warning and would have to go through a disciplinary appeal. However, she was relieved when the disciplinary hearing outcome cleared her of any wrongdoing. Her father also made a full recovery.

The company agreed that it would review the policy as Danielle was the first to be disciplined in accordance to it, and in order to ensure that in future it is applied correctly.


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