Kate’s Cases - This Week I Have Mostly Been Sacking People...

While we always remind clients that the purpose of the disciplinary process is to encourage employees to improve, there are always those who are a bit reluctant to demonstrate a commitment to meet the employer’s standards. And those are the ones who tend to be dismissed. We do seem to handle a lot of tough cases.

Some time ago we had to deal with a real ducker and diver of an employee. This is what happened. Steve, the owner of a retail outlet came to me for help. He had been going through a redundancy process with the employees in one of his shops. A decision had been taken and Susan had been identified as the person to be made redundant. She had appealed against the decision to Steve. Her father, Adrian, a law lecturer at a local college accompanied her. At the appeal, Adrian accused Susan’s manager of bullying Susan and they submitted a grievance.

Steve was a bit stunned by this, but he agreed with Susan that she should remain at home while he investigated the grievance. The whole process was put into abeyance and she remained on full pay throughout the next few weeks. One of Steve’s business colleagues had recommended us, so he called us and we arranged for one of the team to carry out an investigation into the grievance. Susan refused to attend any of the investigation meetings and in the end a report was produced without her input. She was invited to attend a formal grievance meeting, but she failed to attend and did not give any reason for doing so.

We examined the report in her absence and concluded that there was no case to answer. However, trading conditions had improved, so we made arrangements for her to resume work the following week. Susan did not attend for work on the appointed day, nor did we hear from her, but her father wrote to us to say that she was so distressed and unwell that he had had to take a week off work to look after her. We arranged a welfare meeting so that we could explore her difficulties, but she did not attend that meeting. Even though we had offered to go to her home, she did not make contact. At this stage, another employee came forward and gave us an email which clearly indicated that so far from languishing at home in a distressed state, Susan was having a lovely time on holiday in Morocco.

We wrote to her again, expressing our concern that she had taken this time off work without our knowledge or permission and arranged a disciplinary meeting to discuss her unauthorised absence. Despite his earlier correspondence which clearly suggested that Susan was sick, Adrian once again intervened, saying that we had known all along she was on holiday. We checked but there was no evidence to support his version of events. Susan failed to attend the first date scheduled for the disciplinary meeting. Apparently she had diarrhoea. We rearranged the meeting to allow her time to recover from her indisposition. Two days before the next meeting was scheduled, she wrote saying that we had misunderstood her point about the redundancy and that all she wanted was to be given her redundancy money, which she now claimed.

We wrote back saying that there was no misapprehension about the redundancy. At the redundancy appeal meeting she and her father had complained – in the strongest possible terms - that she had been harassed and bullied. We pointed out that we had arranged for an investigation to take place into the grievance. At no stage, until her most recent letter, had she ever said that all she wanted was to be made redundant. We also pointed out that the evidence emerging from the disciplinary investigation clearly indicated that there was a case to answer and this would in any event, supercede any redundancy proceedings. And we called her to order again. Another sick note arrived.

Apparently, the poor girl had diarrhoea pretty badly. However, after getting a sick note from her doctor she had managed to drive several miles from her home to our shop to deliver the note in person. In our letter rescheduling the meeting, we noted this and also offered to come to her home if her condition suddenly deteriorated to such an extent that she couldn’t leave the house to attend the disciplinary hearing. She didn’t reply, didn’t attend and we went through the process and dismissed her in her absence. She didn’t appeal and we haven’t heard anything further. She clearly was somewhat economical with the truth and so was her father, so I would be surprised if they tried their chances at a tribunal. I would have thought that to be caught out in such blatant lies would be very discouraging, but you never know. We’ll keep you posted... Get it right.

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

Subscribe to our free monthly HR newsletter. Russell HR Consulting employment law newsletters are emailed automatically to our ever-growing number of subscribers every month.