Wed 24 April, 2019
When workplace pranks are no laughing matter
We all like a good laugh at a practical joke but when such pranks go wrong in the workplace they can have serious repercussions.
Sharon discovered this to her cost when workplace high jinks backfired at a Derbyshire-based manufacturing site. Sharon was dismissed when she and two female colleagues were alleged to have tied up a colleague with tape and Clingfilm before locking her in a storeroom ‘for a laugh’.
The other two women involved resigned when initial allegations of illegal restraint and kidnapping were put to them.
Sharon was present briefly but did not play an active role in what took place. By the time she arrived on the scene the worker’s upper body had been tied up. Sharon did not join in but stood laughing as her workmate’s legs were tied, and she left as this was being done.
However, Sharon was suspended and later invited to attend a disciplinary hearing to face allegations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour.
Sharon did not take advantage of her statutory right to be accompanied to a disciplinary hearing by a work colleague or trade union representative. She explained at the meeting that what happened was the usual workplace banter and joking around.
At the hearing the employer produced mobile phone footage of the incident for the first time and used this in making its decision to dismiss Sharon. She was devastated and contacted Castle Associates employee support centre for help.
One of our representatives later spoke to Sharon and reviewed the case paperwork, evidence and outcome. He explained that based on the information he believed she had been unfairly dismissed. He wrote an appeal letter for her and requested all of the information used in making the decision, including a copy of the mobile phone footage.
In preparation for any type of hearing our representatives can help an employee to request any information they believe their employer may have that can assist their case.
At the disciplinary appeal hearing our representative was able to identify numerous inconsistencies, contradictions and flaws in the evidence. He established and argued that Sharon’s mitigation – which included 10 years’ service, exemplary disciplinary record, the fact she had shown remorse and her non active role in the incident - was never properly considered.
He also argued that the disciplinary process was unfair. Pointing out the company breached the ACAS Code of Practice in originally withholding the mobile phone footage. In addition the employer also failed to hold an investigation meeting despite its disciplinary policy making it expressly clear that it will always do so before making a decision to instigate disciplinary action.
There was also a key bit of evidence captured in the mobile phone footage. The apparent victim of the prank was filmed laughing and joking and also captured saying ‘you better not leave me in here as long as we did to **** when we did it to him last week.’ A supervisor was aware of this previous incident and took no action.
Our representative used this to support Sharon’s assertion that there was an established and therefore recognised and accepted culture of banter and fooling around in the workplace, and that in singling her out in this way she justifiably felt victimised.
Sharon’s desired outcome to the appeal was to be reinstated as she had been unable to find alternative work, she had financial commitments she had to meet and the site was local and convenient. At the end of the hearing the employer said it would write to her with an outcome.
A few days later Sharon was notified the decision had been overturned. She was reinstated and issued with a verbal reprimand and warned about her future conduct based on the fact she admitted doing nothing to help her colleague.
As a result of the case the employer vowed that it would make all staff aware of what it considered to be unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.
“A reputation built on success”
For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611