It is important to deal with employee matters as soon as possible, even if they are minor issues.

One reason for this is to avoid what we call ‘The Straw Effect’. The straw effect is where managers ignore small issues (usually because they want to be nice or do not wish to make a fuss) and then act what seems like unreasonably for a minor issue when in reality is is ‘the last straw’ or ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back.’

Employees need to be aware of what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace and if they are not informed of these then they will behave and carry out their work in the way(s) that they feel are correct.

It may be the case that minor issues are dealt with by having an informal chat with the employee. If the employee then carries as before then formal disciplinary actions may be required. If an employer does not deal with conduct issues at the time that they occur, there is very little that can be done about these in the future. They can be used as historical evidence in any future matters but, unless a disciplinary or conduct hearing is held and warnings are given to the employee at the time of the incident(s), an employer cannot give warnings for these incidents in the future, without reasonable reasoning. Misconduct issues should be dealt with and investigated as soon as they become known to management.

Failure to investigate misconduct not only sends the wrong message to employees but also runs the risk of scrutiny by third parties. Fair disciplinary procedures should apply to all alleged incidents of misconduct. These include investigation and disciplinary meetings (where necessary), the right for the employee to appeal the decision, and different individuals carrying out the different aspects of the process, i.e. one person carrying out the investigation, a second person carrying out the disciplinary and a third person dealing with any appeal.

If a business does not have enough members of management to carry out the different stages of the process, it may be that an outside party, such as a business owner from another business or an HR consultancy firm, carries out some of the process.

When disciplinary proceedings involve accusations of alleged historical misconduct that have only now come to light, additional issues must be taken into consideration, including: –

● Why have the allegations only come to light now?

This could simply be down to evidence only emerging now. The investigator should consider the time of the alleged incident(s) and whether the employee’s behaviour might not have merited disciplinary action at the time of the incident(s).

● Was the employee’s line manager aware of the alleged misconduct at the time it occurred?​

If the answer is yes then it is crucial that the investigation considers why disciplinary action was not undertaken earlier. If the misconduct was ignored or accepted by the line manager, there is the possibility that this could undermine any subsequent decision to dismiss or impose any other disciplinary action on the employee. If you have concerns that line managers are not performing to the correct duties, you should consider providing training on how to deal with misconduct in the workplace, including the importance of dealing with misconduct when it arises.

● How can we investigate something that happened in the past?

You must believe that the alleged misconduct actually took place, and be serious enough, for a dismissal to be considered fair. A proper investigation and disciplinary hearing must be carried out and evidence provided to support this belief. The circumstances of the alleged misconduct will determine what is reasonable. If witnesses are no longer available, you could base your decision on evidence if this evidence can be corroborated, sounds feasible and there appears to be no ulterior motive. If documents or other evidence are unavailable, then it may not be reasonable to rely on personal recollections of the contents of that evidence.

A recent case held at the Employment Tribunal has awarded the Claimant £25,000 compensation for unfair dismissal. Mr. Trice had worked for Southeastern Railway for eight years and, at the time of the incident which led to his dismissal, was working light duties at Paddock Wood Railway Station after suffering a broken ankle.

Mr Trice had found himself alone in the ticket office after his colleague had left the window open to go to the shop. A customer approached the window to buy a ticket and, although Mr Trice was not authorised to issue tickets, he went ahead and assisted the customer. Southeastern Railway started an investigation and during this period, Mr Trice admitted that he had acted incorrectly and was very apologetic.

Despite his contrition, Southeastern Railway dismissed him without notice. The colleague who had left the ticket window unattended to go to the shop was only giving a warning, despite also breaking the rules. The Employment Tribunal held that Mr Trice had been wrongly dismissed, saying: -​

“We agree that the Claimant’s actions constituted misconduct and warranted at least a warning but we do find it outside the reasonable range to dismiss. “The Claimant’s motive was to assist a customer, albeit misguided, and there was clear contrition and acceptance he should do differently in future.”

The tribunal went on to say that, instead of dismissing Mr Trice, Southeastern Railway should have provided further training.

This case highlights the fact that employers should consider both motive and whether or not a staff member is remorseful about any alleged misconduct.

We do not know the history of Mr Trice’s employment with Southeastern Railway and, therefore, cannot say if there had been any previous incidents which should have been investigated by Southeastern Railway but in which nothing was done.

It could be that Mr Trice’s conduct and disciplinary record with Southeastern Railway was, on paper, very good but if there were incidents that were not investigated and/or dealt with following correct procedures, then this could have influenced the decision to dismiss Mr Trice.

If you would like any further guidance on carrying out or assistance with conducting a proper disciplinary hearing, or for more information on management training, please feel free to contact us at info@orchardemploymentlaw.co.uk

“We agree that the Claimant’s actions constituted misconduct and warranted at least a warning but we do find it outside the reasonable range to dismiss. “The Claimant’s motive was to assist a customer, albeit misguided, and there was clear contrition and acceptance he should do differently in future.” The tribunal went on to say that, instead of dismissing Mr Trice, Southeastern Railway should have provided further training. We do not know the history of Mr Trice’s employment with Southeastern Railway and, therefore, cannot say if there had been any previous incidents which should have been investigated by Southeastern Railway but in which nothing was done. It could very well be that Mr Trice’s conduct and disciplinary record with Southeastern Railway was, on paper, very good but if there were incidents that were not investigated and/or dealt with following correct procedures, then this could have influenced the decision to dismiss Mr Trice. If you would like any further guidance on carrying out or assistance with conducting a proper disciplinary hearing, or for more information on management training, please feel free to contact us at info@orchardemploymentlaw.co.uk

If the answer is yes then it is crucial that the investigation considers why disciplinary action was not undertaken earlier. If the misconduct was ignored or accepted by the line manager, there is the possibility that this could undermine any subsequent decision to dismiss or impose any other disciplinary action on the employee. If you have concerns that line managers are not performing to the correct duties, you should consider providing training on how to deal with misconduct in the workplace, including the importance of dealing with misconduct when it arises. ● How can we investigate something that happened in the past? You must believe that the alleged misconduct actually took place, and be serious enough, for a dismissal to be considered fair. A proper investigation and disciplinary hearing must be carried out and evidence provided to support this belief. The circumstances of the alleged misconduct will determine what is reasonable. If witnesses are no longer available, you could base your decision on hearsay evidence if this evidence can be corroborated, sounds feasible and there appears to be no ulterior motive. If documents or other evidence are unavailable, then it may not be reasonable to rely on personal recollections of the contents of that evidence. A recent case held at the Employment Tribunal has awarded the Claimant £25,000 compensation for unfair dismissal. Tony Trice had worked for Southeastern Railway for eight years and, at the time of the incident which led to his dismissal, was working light duties at Paddock Wood Railway Station after suffering a broken ankle. Mr Trice had found himself alone in the ticket office after his colleague had left the window open to go to the shop. A customer approached the window to buy a ticket and, although Mr Trice was not authorised to issue tickets, he went ahead and assisted the customer. Southeastern Railway started an investigation and during this period, Mr Trice admitted that he had acted incorrectly and was very apologetic. Despite his contrition, Southeastern Railway dismissed him without notice. The colleague who had left the ticket window unattended to go to the shop was only giving a warning, despite also breaking the rules. The Employment Tribunal held that Mr Trice had been wrongly dismissed, saying: -​

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