Disciplinaries can sometimes take a nasty turn

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Ravinder Kaur, 35, working at the Shams Moopen Dental Practice in Shefford, Bedfordshire, allegedly spiked Practice Manager Laura Knowles’ drink after she received a disciplinary for leaving a patient in the dental chair as she went on her lunch break. In that case, the prosecution alleges that “Ms Kaur, acting out of spite or revenge, took a capsule or a number of capsules of mercury, and tipped it into a mug and handed the cup of coffee to Ms Knowles to drink.

Ravinda Kaur had been subject to earlier disciplinary action, having received a verbal warning for unfairly ordering her colleagues around at work in January 2012 and was later spoken to regarding “generally poor behaviour”.

Whilst this behaviour may sound extreme, we are aware of other employees reacting aggressively to disciplinaries: one employee threatened to “go postal”, another said he would drive his car packed full of explosives onto his employer’s premises. A client’s manager suspected an aggrieved employee for vandalising his car, whilst another was sure that a £1million pound deal almost collapsed because of information leaked by a spiteful employee dismissed for gross misconduct.

These cases demonstrate rather extreme examples of how employees can react badly to disciplinary action – albeit such adverse conduct is rare. Employers should not be frightened to take disciplinary action when it is appropriate to do so and, when doing so, ensure that they follow their disciplinary procedure. Employers must also show that they are fair and consistent in their treatment of the employee in order to protect themselves as managers and the company from any legal action.

It is important therefore that employers have established and regularly reviewed disciplinary procedures to provide guidelines for employee performance and behaviour setting out what behaviour is expected. In addition a well drafted and implemented disciplinary procedure will serve as an essential tool to managers in the overall management of their employees.

Merely having a disciplinary policy will not be enough, as management will need to be seen to be delivering the message by taking prompt action under any disciplinary procedure, particularly with regards to employees who breach the rules of the workplace. As a result employers will be able to identify employees who deliberately act contrary or disruptively against employers’ workplace practices and policies.

What not to do:

  • Do not indicate that the decision has already been made
  • Do not covertly monitor the employee by “spying” on them, unless necessary and justifiable. Investigations should be transparent
  • Do not just suspend the employee unless there are grounds for believing that the employee’s presence at work could result in damage to the employer or colleagues, or it will affect the employer’s ability to carry out a reasonable investigation.

Naturally it is hoped that in respect to minor disciplinary offences, the employee will receive an appropriate warning and learn from the mistake. Hopefully, contrary to the example of Ms Kaur’s conduct above, all parties can then “put the matter to bed” and move on.

Article compiled and written by the following people:

Aron Pope (Senior Associate) and Janina Blossfeldt (Trainee Solicitor) are in the employment team at City law firm Fox Williams

Ami Naru is an employment associate at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds

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