Partner, Andrew Bryan, comments on a recent case where an employer found themselves in a position of dismissing a hardworking and well – liked employee because of an incident for which the employee apologised profusely, however because of the employers own policies it found dismissal was the only option.
It is normal to see a workplace policy prohibiting bullying and harassment which gives examples of unacceptable behaviour. Verbal and physical bullying will be obvious inclusions in the policy , email and social media formats are now becoming increasingly more common inclusions. The harassment allegation in this particular case, however, was focused around a different medium – a drinks mug.
A female employee found a mug in a kitchen cupboard at her workplace. She complained to her manager that she found the comments in the form of graffiti that appeared on the side of the mug to be threatening – she described it as an ‘offensive misogynist message directed at me’.
The employer took a serious position with regard to instances of bullying and harassment in their organisation including requiring employees to undertake a 3 hour online training session on equal opportunities.
An investigation culminated in the employee who brought the mug into the office being invited to attend a disciplinary hearing. At the hearing he apologies and insisted that the comments on the mug were not directed at the employee who had complained. Although he had 20 years service and a clean disciplinary record, he was dismissed.
In light of the zero tolerance policy towards bullying and harassment, the employer’s decision to dismiss was within the range of reasonable responses to the circumstances. The employee appealed to the Employment Tribunal which confirmed that with a zero tolerance policy towards bullying and harassment, there could be no instance of bullying that would get past a robust zero tolerance policy.
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