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When a row between friends leads to disciplinary problems in the workplace


Wed 1 May, 2019

2 silhouettes arguing

When a row between friends leads to disciplinary problems in the workplace.

When work colleagues fall out over trivial matters the repercussions can be serious.

When what was once a good working relationship breaks down it is not uncommon for workmates to make tit-for-tat complaints against each other.

Dealing with such situations can be difficult for all involved, especially for an employee left facing a fight to save their job.

This is the situation that factory worker Claire found herself in after falling out with a colleague she once regarded as one of her best friends.

The pair had a trivial row during a night out. Claire’s workmate then posted some brief comments about the incident on social media.

This infuriated Claire who felt it was a private matter. She went to her colleague’s house the following day and later posted comments about her on social media.

The co-worker then submitted a formal grievance claiming that she felt bullied by Claire.  

When Claire was informed that she was the subject of a grievance from someone she considered a good friend, she retaliated and submitted a grievance of her own. Claire alleged that she felt bullied by the initial social media post.

The company held grievance hearings, investigated and rejected both grievances.

There then followed a number of incidents between Claire and her colleague, which led to minor complaints being submitted by both against each other.

But matters came to a head when the company began a redundancy consultation process.

The colleague was apparently telling people that Claire was definitely going to be selected because management had told her that they have had enough of Claire. This got back to Claire

The pair had a furious row and had to be separated by colleagues and a supervisor. Both were warned about their future conduct, and the supervisor arranged to meet with both the following day for mediation

The meeting was a disaster as it descended into a heated row before Claire walked out. It was at this point that things took a turn for the worst for Claire.

She was called back to the supervisor’s office and told she was being suspended from work for leaving the meeting and refusing to return when asked to do so.

Claire insisted she had no choice as her colleague had been offensive and insulting, which the supervisor failed to stop having lost control of the meeting.

When Claire was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing the following week it was to face an allegation of insubordination. She was warned that dismissal was a potential outcome of the hearing.

The evidence against Claire was a statement from the supervisor. She was understandably worried.

Claire contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help.

Prior to the hearing our representative contacted the company and established that the supervisor had not had any training in workplace mediation.

The hearing was told that this was the major contributory factor in what occurred. Our representative argued that it was reasonable to assert that the supervisor did not have the required skills, knowledge and strategies needed to effectively conduct the mediation.

He said the old fashioned approach that was taken of trying to ‘bang heads together’ inflamed rather than defused the situation.

The disciplinary hearing chair was told that Claire had grounds for a grievance, but instead she wanted to work with the company to finally resolve the matter.

Claire’s willingness to do so was used to argue that given the history of the dispute, getting a fully trained mediator to speak to both women would be the appropriate way ahead.

There was lengthy discussion around this. The hearing chair was reasonable and she acknowledged the mistake made in the supervisor trying to mediate.

Claire was cleared of any wrongdoing. A subsequent meeting with a professional workplace mediator appeared to resolve the problem, certainly as far as Claire was concerned.

Her colleague was dismissed a few months later for an incident involving another employee.

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