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Difficult Re-Marks

Ever tired stuffing a fully grown, grumpy, hissing, spitting cat back into the metaphorical bag? Even if you haven’t you can probably see that there’s plenty of scope for misery and tension ahead (and the cat usually stays firmly unstuffed). That’s what’s happening to one of our clients at the moment.

A week or two back the company received a complaint from a third party business partner about a piece of work done by one of its employees, Mark. Mark is a fully qualified gas fitter. The third party complained that the fitting done by Mark had been left in a dangerous state. Before a fitter leaves site, he has to run tests to check that the appliance is safe and to print documents demonstrating compliance with this requirement. Mark said that he had fitted the appliance; that he hadn't left it in the state in which it was found; that he had tested it, but had not printed off the test results. So his employer was left in a difficult position.

They had what they called an informal meeting with him. This was noted and seemed to take the form of an investigation. So far, so good. But then a more senior manager put in an appearance and said that Mark deserved a warning, or would be getting a warning or something of that ilk. Fortunately in the light of this comment (worthy of one of Prince Philip’s best foot-in-mouth jobs),they didn't invoke the formal process but left it as an informal discussion. Whether they should have treated it more seriously is quite another matter, but the fact remains Mark was not warned formally.

They were a bit surprised to receive a letter from Mark saying that they had flawed the procedure and he wanted to appeal against the written warning. So the manager who was originally involved tried to pacify Mark and get him to understand that there had been no warning, but there were several more, ranting and slightly incoherent pieces of correspondence along these lines and eventually the MD sat down with Mark to discuss the matter. Unfortunately, the upshot of that was to produce a grievance against the MD and Mark went off sick saying he was ‘traumatised’ and we haven’t seen him since Yes, I know – absolutely ridiculous, but there we have it.

So we wrote to Mark to set up a grievance meeting. As it is imminent and he has not responded to our requests to confirm that he can attend, we are about to write to re-schedule. In the letter we have drafted for the client we point out to Mark that we are trying to find out the precise nature of his concerns and the evidence so that we can resolve them in a timely fashion. We have also said that this will be nigh on impossible if he remains silently sulking in his corner and refusing to play (you’ll appreciate we didn't quite use those words!).

In this case we have concluded that if after a second non-appearance he doesn't bother to participate in the grievance process he has invoked we will review his complaint in his absence and reach a conclusion based on the facts available. We have offered reasonable adjustments to encourage him to engage in the process and if it does goes ahead without him, he’ll be advised of the outcome and given the right of appeal.

What a waste of time. The client got it wrong and the cat spat and got out. Mark is behaving like an idiot. We’re always saying that employers have a right and a duty to manage and so they do. Mark has clearly breached important safety standards and caused serious business concerns on the part of the organisation’s business partner; but the manager made one incorrect comment - just one - and it’s blown up in an unexpected way and is now causing all sorts of problems. We will get it sorted out, though it may take a little while longer. My hope is that Mark will get back to work in a sensible frame of mind, but I don’t know. It may be that if he carries on like this Mark will make his job untenable and we will have to consider dismissal for SOSR.

The moral of the story is you must learn to be tactical. Know how the disciplinary procedure works and thus what you can say and what you must avoid saying. Make sure you take advice sooner rather than later to limit the risk of this type of behaviour. We’ll show you how.

If you need help with managing sticky employment situations, or any other aspect of HR, get in touch.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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