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Finding the right words to resolve a disciplinary case


Wed 18 September, 2019

Man with words coming out

It’s fair to say that estate agent Tanya was relieved when she was cleared of any wrongdoing after being overheard at work calling a colleague ‘The Bitch’.

Tanya was facing dismissal when the comment was apparently reported to her bosses by a client of her employer.

A disciplinary hearing was told that the comment was raised as a concern because it is not the type of language the client expected to hear when visiting a professional setting.

Although Tanya said she could not recall making the comment she was identified because of her hairstyle. She did also admit it was the type of thing that she is likely to have said.

During a disciplinary investigation Tanya was told that her behaviour was considered bullying and it had breached the company’s code of conduct.

When Tanya was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing she was warned that dismissal was a potential outcome if the allegation was considered proven.

Tanya denied that her actions were nasty or malicious. She said the language was commonly used in the workplace and the term was in fact how her female colleague had referred to herself in the past. This was rejected by the company and it instigated formal disciplinary action against Tanya.

She was understandably worried and fearing the worst when she contacted the Castle Associates Employee support Centre for help.

Tanya met with our representative, discussed the case and provided him with the evidence against her. It included a statement from the investigating manager, which summarised what was said to be a complaint email from the client. The email was not provided.

The only other evidence provided was the dignity at work policy, which covered bullying, and the disciplinary procedure.

Tanya explained that they type of language she was overheard using was commonplace in the workplace.

She also explained the colleague who she had referred to as ‘The Bitch’ does actually call herself that at times.

Tanya provided our representative with screenshots from a work WhatsApp group and social media posts in which her colleague made several expletive-laden references to being the biggest and baddest bitch and kind of bitch you should never cross.

Tanya said she had also spoken to her colleague and she confirmed she was not offended, did not submit a formal grievance after being made aware of what was said and would happily support Tanya’s case if needed.

Prior to the hearing our representative requested a copy of the complaint email. The email made it clear that the client was not offended, did not complain and thought the employer should simply have a word with staff in case someone else heard such language and was offended.

At the disciplinary hearing our representative argued that given the nature of the apparent complaint, an informal approach would have been appropriate in the circumstances.

He highlighted that the ACAS Code of Practice encourages employers to try and take an informal approach to disciplinary matters where possible and to use the process to encourage rather than punish an employee. He also pointed out that the company’s own dignity at work and disciplinary policy advised an initial informal approach to try and resolve concerns.

The screenshots and a witness statement from the worker the comment was about were presented to the hearing chair as evidence that she did not take offence to the comment. It was asserted that the language used was in keeping with that of the workplace culture.

Our representative told the hearing that Tanya acknowledged the company’s concerns, was remorseful and had taken appropriate learning from the matter.

The disciplinary hearing chair asked Tanya a number of questions before adjourning the hearing. She was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. All staff were later issued with advice about acceptable behaviour in the workplace.

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