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Confessions Of An Employment Solicitor – What Really Goes On At Work

It’s time for me to share some the confessions of an employment solicitor. In my 11 years since qualification, I thought I’d seen it all…

Time for us to dive into the confessions of an employment solicitor. I thought I’d seen it all, but in the world of employment law, there is always something new which still surprises me. As a solicitor, I work in a very regulated industry where client confidentiality and privacy to be key.  I have therefore written this article with extreme care so as not to identify anyone or breach any confidences. 

The matters I talk about are not embellished but for ease of storytelling, I’m using the names Joe (Joe Bloggs) and Jane (Jane Doe) as placeholder names.  None of these stories relate to actual persons called either Joe or Jane.

Sex in the workplace

Yes, you’d be amazed at the number of employees who either conduct some form of sexual conduct or view sexual images whilst at work.

What Not To Do

I remember being contacted by one client who reported that there had been an issue with a male employee, Joe, in the workplace.  He was using the toilets which were ‘public toilets’ in the sense that customers were permitted to use them, and they could simply walk in.  For some reason, Joe felt the need to masturbate before starting his working day.  However, he decided to do this in these work toilets. 

You may still think, ok, well he was in a cubicle so who would know, but Joe didn’t do that.  Instead, he was standing by the sinks in full view of anyone walking in.  And walk in they did, as the female cleaner discovered when she entered to perform her duties that morning.  What Joe did next then added to my surprise, rather than be embarrassed and seek to cover up, he simply told her “I’ll be done in a few minutes” and carried on.  Needless to say, that incident resulted in a disciplinary for gross misconduct.

What Not To View

My next story in my ongoing list of confessions of an employment solicitor is also about Joe.  Joe, like most office-based employees, had his own workstation and computer.  Joe was the sort of employee where there were no issues and he kept his head down and just got on with his work.  Joe’s employer had a policy in place which not only provided his employer to monitor and review his emails and calls, but it also specified what was not permitted behaviour with the use of emails and accessing the internet.  Now I appreciate not everyone will not read their employer’s company handbook, however, some of the policies are simply common sense.

Unfortunately for Joe, an issue arose with another employee, which caused the employer to review several employees’ internet usage, including Joe’s computer.  What they found on Joe’s IP search history was a disproportionately large number of websites which were all pornographic.  They also varied from ladies scantily clad dressed through to full-on explicit images.  I had the unfortunate job of reviewing links sent to me in a spreadsheet, spanning pages and pages, to ascertain the severity of his misconduct; needless to say, my male colleagues offered to take on that task for me.  It transpired that in fact, Joe spent much of his working day on these sites and managed to cover up his low work output.  Again, Joe left the company following a gross misconduct dismissal.

Taking the law into your own hands

Conduct At Home

Let’s leave Joe alone and look at Jane Doe and a more serious story.  Jane was a very good employee, would go over and above what she was required to do and was liked by everyone.  Jane was also a younger employee and looking for love.  She met someone and started a relationship.  Apparently, he wasn’t the most respectable of sorts and soon his ways rubbed off on Jane and her colleagues all noticed a change in her behaviour, to their disappointment.  What happened next occurred outside of the workplace so there was no disciplinary or gross misconduct situation.

Whilst at home one weekend, a physical argument arose between Jane’s boyfriend and another man.  This took place outside their home.  Clearly it was a distressing time for all involved, and wanting to help, Jane ran into the house and of all things, picked up a gun.  Seeking to scare the man off, on seeing the gun, naturally, he then started to run away.  If that was the end of the matter, I wouldn’t be writing this. 

Sadly, Jane then fired the gun as the man ran away, and although not immediately fatal, he then died on route to the hospital.  As you would expect, Jane was then subject to the criminal justice system and was sent to prison.  As she remained an employee, we had to address her employment status.  Her employment was therefore terminated because of the frustration of contract (simply put, the contract was terminated without notice) and no notice was payable.

Taking company property

In the spirit of equality, let’s stick with Jane again for our final story in my compendium of confessions of an employment solicitor.  Jane’s role involved working with products which were sold to customers.  Jane was, therefore, a whizz at stocktaking, invoicing for these products and dealing with the accounts for the department.  As a perk of the job, she received a discount on any of these products she wanted to purchase herself.  However, this wasn’t enough for Jane. 

The company were randomly contacted by a third party, who explained the service they offered was to purchase items on marketplace websites and uncover individuals who were selling their employer’s stock.  They offered an investigation pack, for a fee, as they had discovered wrongdoing in the company’s workplace.  To say the company was sceptical was an understatement, given the information was only available if a fee was paid, so they carried out their own investigations. 

Sure enough, they discovered that Jane had been hiding products through the stocktaking procedure, taking them home and selling them for her own personal gain.  In other words, they had clear evidence of theft.  However, more serious than that was the discovery that for a number of years, she had been changing some of the account’s details on invoices, meaning some of the customers were paying into her personal account. 

She had collected over £35,000 alone, not including the profits from the goods sold.  Jane was promptly dismissed for gross misconduct and the company then commenced legal action against her to recover the sums stolen.

The above is just a snapshot of the situations I see. Whilst I don’t enjoy assisting employers in dismissing employees, I can at least ensure the employee receives a fair hearing and a reasonable procedure, whilst at the same time, protecting the company from the threat of an employment tribunal claim.  To say it is never a dull day is one of the reasons I love my job and working in this field of law, especially offering employment legal services and advice.

With all the stories given above, I advised the company on the fair procedure, as well we the commercial options of how best to deal with their situation.  They all resulted in these employees’ being terminated but it was done so in a manner which prevented an employment tribunal claim being raised against them.

If you have experienced issues with staff, or simply want to put policies and procedures in place to prevent issues arising in the first place, please contact us via email legal@swancraig.co.uk or via our website www.swancraig.co.uk

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