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A playground-related fight to beat an unfair disciplinary allegation

Published: 

Wed 21 October, 2020

playground

Teaching assistant Sam loved working in school and adored the children, so it was her worst nightmare to be accused of deliberately injuring a pupil.

Sam faced a fight to save her job after the parents of a junior school pupil complained that she deliberately pushed the child causing him to fall and suffer grazes and bruising.

It was alleged that the boy accidentally bumped into Sam in the playground, she reacted angrily, swore at him, pushed him over and walked off leaving him crying on the floor.

Distraught Sam, who had worked at the school for 15 years, insisted the allegation was untrue. She said that what actually occurred was a typical playground accident.

Sam said the boy ran into the back of her legs, fell to the floor and got up and ran off.
Before he ran off, she asked if he was ok? He replied he was fine and went to play with his friends.

Sam did not believe the incident was serious or unusual in the playground setting.

The school took the incident seriously. Sam was suspended from work as soon as the allegation came to light. She protested her innocence.

The incident was reported to the police, but officers took no further action after speaking to Sam.

However, the school continued with its own disciplinary investigation, which it is perfectly entitled to do.

Where an employee’s alleged misconduct at work is the subject of a police investigation and the individual is subsequently cleared of any criminal act, the employer can conduct its own investigation.

In criminal cases it has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the allegation occurred, while in disciplinary matters an employer is expected to reach a reasonable belief that an allegation occurred.

The school invited Sam to a disciplinary investigation meeting, also known as a fact-finding meeting.

She was given the right to be accompanied at the investigation meeting, although it is not a requirement for an employer to allow an employee to have a companion at such a meeting. Sam’s companion was a colleague.

It emerged during the meeting that the allegation was based on what the boy’s parents say he told them and two other children, of the same age, who did not see what happened and simply told a teacher that he told them Sam pushed him.

Sam and her companion raised concerns about the reliability of the evidence and expressed that the case was unfair because she was cleared by the police.

However, the school later believed it was necessary to hear the case at a disciplinary hearing. Sam faced an allegation of causing physical harm to a child in her care.

Sam’s colleague who accompanied her to the investigation meeting advised her to get expert help for the hearing.

Her workmate put Sam in touch with the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre

The school produced a substantial evidence pack to support the allegation. It included numerous policies and the witness statements.

Our representatives are experts in assessing extensive documentation and identifying key evidence and flaws in procedures that can help an employee to get a favourable outcome.

At the hearing our representative acknowledged to the disciplinary panel that he understood the school had to take any complaint such as the allegation in the case seriously.

However, he highlighted the nature of the unreliable hearsay evidence; no evidence of any injury to the child; flaws in the investigation in that it accepted as fact what was said without question; failure to adhere to school policies provided in the evidence pack; and Sam’s dedication, selfless work and record to help argue that the allegation was unfounded.

Both Sam and our representative were able to ask questions of the investigation officer who presented her findings to the panel.

Our representative’s questioning of the investigating officer produced answers and information, which he used to skilfully undermine the case against Sam.

The panel asked Sam a number of questions in relation to the allegation before the hearing was adjourned.

It reconvened just over an hour later to inform Sam of the outcome. She wept tears of joy when she was told the allegation had been dismissed.

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