Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
Hi everyone. This is an update on an earlier non-motoring thread which - thanks to HJ and Mark - was allowed to be posted here and resulted in much support from those in the BackRoom. A number of people asked to be kept informed of events so here goes...
Disciplinary Action - Update - Rob the Bus
Erm....volvoman, are you keeping us in suspenders, or did you hit the wrong button??!!
Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
Sorry everyone - just got timed out by about 5 seconds !!!! I'll start again and split the posts.
Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
For those new to this, please read my earlier thread started in January which gives all the background up to the point where my wife was issued with a Final Written Warning for poor customer service i.e. failing to packa customer's bag) and interupting the Team Manager as she interviews the customer on the shop floor in front of my wife.

Yesterday my wife went to her appeal she argued that she didn't know it was company policy to pack all bags (several of her colleagues didn't know either !) and that she'd never recieved any proper training in customer service and how to deal with rude or agressive customers. She told them the manner in which the woman was interviewed in public was unprofessional and was the reason my wife interupted. She once again made the point that she felt her nationality and lack of English had been used against her and that the previous discpilinary meetings had had been unnecessarily intimidating and stressful - leading to her being signed off from work for 10 days with acute stress. She explained that she had medical problems which made her freeze when confronted with the aggressive customer who was shouting loudly at her. She even explained how another customer had intervened and told the woman complaining how rude she had been to my wife.

The Manager hearing the appeal dismissed all her arguments and said the training issue was of no concern to him. Despite having read her explanations, he just kept asking why my wife didn't pack the bag and stating the customer is always right - no customer = no company = no money.

He told her she was the sort of person who always wanted to be right and couldn't accept criticism. Throughout the meeting he was very intimidating and kept asking the same questions again and again without listening to my wife's response. He told her he could sack her if he wanted and asked if she would she like to resign?

In the end he dismissed her mitigation totally and said the FWW would stand. My wife came home later and was very shocked at how the appeal had been handled and how intimidating he was towards her. She had a young colleague with her but the only other person present was a personnel manager from another store.

It seems that the company either doesn't know or care what is going on here. The store where my wife works is a shambles and the shop floor staff are frequently placed under stress because of lack of training and an unwillingness to provide such basics as tills which actually work !
Consequently they are faced with an impossible situation i.e. to provide exceptional service without the tools or training to do the job.


We want to take this further and would welcome any feedback or advice from anyone, including all those who so kindly contributed to the original thread. I'll close now so as not to get timed out again. Thanks everyone !!
Disciplinary Action - Update - Rob the Bus
Volvoman - I'm sorry to hear that your wife has been treated so unfairly throughout this. It must be a very trying time for you both. Forgive me, I may have missed it in the original thread, but has your wife had any Trade Union representation at all? If not, then a quick call to the Transport & General Worker's Union in London (sorry - I've not got the number to hand) who can advise you.

Personally, I would find out if your wife's company has a grievance procedure. If so, then launch an application for a grievance hearing. The company *has* to respond and if they don't then it will severely count against them at Tribunal.

Talking of which, I feel that this is now the only way forward. You need to see someone who specialises in employment law. I've mentioned this is another thread, but your house insurance may well include a 24-hour legal helpline as part of the deal.

Whatever you do, *****don't***** go to the Press (local or national) as this can severely prejudice a Tribunal.

This may all sound rather daunting, but do stick with it. This company that your wife works for seem to be ignoring all employment law and need to be brought down a peg or two.

Very best wishes and good luck!
Disciplinary Action - Update - joe
Volvoman, it sounds like Mrs V would be better off working for someone other than this shambolic sounding outfit.
Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
RTB - ta for your support, it's very much appreciated !

My wife is now a member of USDAW but wasn't at the time and we were told by the union that they wouldn't be able to assist in the case since it had begun before she joined. Yesterday however I called them and the rep. spoke to me for some time. He confirmed what we already knew about the importance of 1 years service and we talked about grievance procedures and tribunals but appreciate this route is fraught with difficulties. He was very helpful and said that she should perhaps try to keep her head down for a few more weeks and then if/when the year comes up take it further.

They could sack her for no reason at present and with no explanation required and we feel the only reason they haven't done so is because she has already alluded to discrimination on their part and because they have been so unprofessional about this. I can't imagine HQ would be very happy about the way they've handled this matter. They are probably thinking that, like most people, she'll just give up and leave ! She won't however because she feels they have treated her very badly and need to be brought to account. I have some taken legal advice via my home insurance which pretty much concurs with the above. There are a number of other issues surrounding this situation which I explained in the other thread which just add to our case I believe.

I think someone higher up the food chain has read the notes of the original meetings and has realised how bad this is starting to look for them. This would account for a slightly more helpful and understanding attitude from her managers at the branch. The only reason for this is that we believe they are trying some damage limitation so that it doesn't look quite so bad for them if things escalate.

It is not a daunting process for me at all - I've been involved in some serious litigation and don't have a problem getting involved and supporting my wife but it does take a toll on her. She took the job as her first real job in the UK and hoped she'd get some useful experience and build her confidence. We both quite wrongly believed that the company involved would provide this. In my many years of dealing with retailers at all levels I have heard virtually everything about their employers and it's normally the same companies which create problems for people. This company is not known for such behaviour which makes what has happened all the more surprising and sad. I can only assume it's a problem at local level and that HQ don't realise what's going on. We've been wondering if it might be a good idea to make contact with HQ and let them in on the secret but don't want to act rashly.
Disciplinary Action - Update - Rob the Bus
I don't know if you would prejudice any further appeal or tribunal but I would certainly copy every document that you have regarding this case to the Director of Human Resources at company HQ. It is extremely likely that they will have absolutely no idea about the way that their underlings are behaving and will be completely mortified at the thought of all the bad publicity that will come out if it goes to tribunal.

Having said that, though, I would side with the USDAW rep who advised keeping a low profile until Mrs V has completed her first year.

It really makes my blood boil to think that employers can still treat their employees in this manner. I am currently off work sick (hence the amount of time I've spent on here!) and have been since before Christmas. Before I went off sick I was handed a final written warning for abscences caused by my condition. I appealed, but went off sick before the appeal could be heard. Yesterday, I was supposed to be attending this appeal hearing (despite the fact that I am off sick) but on arriving I was told by my TU rep that the operations director had ballsed up and that he was sorry. Tch!

Anyway, my problem is **nowhere** near as serious as Mrs V's and I'm sorry for burdening you with it!

Keep fighting, volvoman. I'm sure that, with your experience and your wife's growing tenacity you'll win through in the end.

All the best

Rob
Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
Yes Rob - we have copies of the original notes taken at her initial interviews. To say they are amateurish is being polite. No page numbers, scribbled handwriting, poor or absent punctuation etc. etc. We have also asked for copies of yesterdays notes which were taken by a personnel manager. Somehow I don't think they'll reflect what truly happened !

As I explained in the other thread, the supervisor who took the initial interviews with my wife had been 'bullying' her for some time and it was really her who escalated this issue. Despite knowing my wife's medical problems she continually rotered her to have to sit at the till for up to 3 hours at a time and told her she wasn't allowed to go to the toilet during work hours. When my wife enquired about changing her hours because we have a special needs child she told her that she didn't think she could cope with the job. She even kept telling my wife she had to smile when she was sitting at the till !!!
Thankfully she has now moved to another store so she doesn't pose further problems at present.
Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
RTB - BTW the problem you're having is just as serious as ours if not more and it's no burden hearing about it. It beats me why companies like these still behave like they did in Victorian times ! Their actions are self defeating and simply create resentment amongst those they frequently like to claim are their greatest asset. They lecture staff about company loyalty but they aren't loyal to their staff in return. Some years ago, my late wife lost her job for similar reasons to you after being in a serious train crash. At the time she was working for one of the largest financial institutions in London who demonstrated their loyalty to and consideration for a valued staff member by depriving her of her job. Nice eh ! Best wishes.
Disciplinary Action - Update - Galaxy
Volvoman,

I'm very sorry to hear the outcome of your wife's appeal. It rather sounds to me that the meeting didn't really serve any useful purpose as management had already decided what the outcome was going to be beforehand.

As another contributor has already mentioned, trade union intervention is probably the only other alternative.
Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
Thanks Galaxy - we're considering all the options and will get back in touch with the union when we've had chance to chew things over. They have said however that they won't get involved if things go 'legal'.

Given the serious lack of training and support evident at store level and the appalling communication at management level, I wouldn't be surprised if the manager who heard the appeal hadn't been propery trained to do this either ! It took them a month to organise the appeal and the first appointment was offered on one of my wife's days off - they couldn't even get that right ! She was given a hand written note with a mobile phone number to ring but this was constantly out of order. We then spent the next 3 days trying to get through to the person and change the meeting before it was too late. We contacted several stores and even rang the regional office yet nobody got back to us and my wife only found out that they hadn't actually turned up for the original hearing when she went in to work the following day. The whole thing was like trying to juggle with jelly and shambolic is an understatement.

Yes, she's felt like leaving but she has been treated very unfairly and despite never having had a warning before has been given an FWW for a first offence despite many genuine mitigating circumstances. This may affect her chances of getting another job and we feel we can't allow them to get away with it.
Also it will do her self esteem and confidence no good if they are allowed to bully her into leaving.
Disciplinary Action - Update - eMBe {P}
As I said in my post in your original thread, I have every sympathy with your wife - because I personally know of cases where the problem has been due to cultural differences (tone of voice, facial expression, etc. which give a totally different nuance from the perspective of an English born/bred person).

Having said that, we have only heard one side of the story here and I suspect there is something more at the bottom of this episode than the incident in question.

I have experience of cases from the Employers side, Employees side, Union side, and Owner-operated businessman's side. Quite often, the Employer/Business-Owner builds up resentment towards a particular employee over a period of months based on small incidents which they take as evidence of "bad attitude"; and then wait for an opportunity to issue formal warning as a prellude to getting rid of that employee. This will be done in the end even at the cost of a hefty settlement at an employment tribunal. They just want "shot" of the employee irrespective of bad publicity or cost. Sorry to say this V, but from the story so far, it seems to me Mrs V is destined for that eventuality.
Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
Hi MB - yes you've only got our side of the story but all the documents back up what we've said and the lack of training, procedural irregularities, medical evidence are undeniable. It all looks very sloppy and shabby indeed. I take your points but I believe this thing has got out of hand and been exacerbated at local level. I don't think HQ is aware and would be shocked to find out I was wrong about that. They're banking on her giving up and leaving but she won't do that. They have failed to apply accepted practice in many aspects of this and there are other staff who can testify to that fact. We even have independent witnesses to an incident in which the manager was rude to my wife publicly when she'd done nothing wrong and it was he who'd made the mistake. They are digging a nice big hole for themselves and we will be happy to take it to a tribunal if they sack her then everyone will be able to see how poorly they have behaved to date and how they have discriminated against her. If they weren't worried about this I feel they could and would have sacked her long ago. Thanks for the feedback MB.
Disciplinary Action - Update - eMBe {P}
Volvoman - I am not saying I doubt your side of the story; just that there is likely to be a different perspective from the Employer. In your wife's case, it will possible have arisen and festered over many months - the supervisor who has now moved will probably have misread or misunderstood your wife over time.

I know of one case where an ethnic minority person was persistently believed to be rude and undiplomatic until an English person with experience of that country-of-origin pointed out that this was a customary manner of speaking in that foreign land. The Employer was sensitive enough to realise that this employee needed a little more training before taking a "public-facing" service role.

The Employer you speak of is likely to be in a "cut-margins-to-the-minimum" trading environment and not bothered with costs involved in providing a high standard of training to all its employees. The attitude probalbly pervades all the way to the top. Which is why they will give priority to sacking someone they feel does not "fit-in" and will do so at whatever cost it takes (usually a max of up to £50,000 at a tribunal). The Employer (if they are a big firm) is likely to have insurance cover for this cost and so it does not matter to them.
Disciplinary Action - Update - Mark (RLBS)
I am thinking that this has gone as far as it is going to.

Volvoman, do you need more assistance or can I lock the threads now ?

Mark.
Disciplinary Action - Update - volvoman
MB please rest assured I didn't think and wasn't implying that you didn't believe us or that they won't have their own version of events. What they can't do is deny what's already been said and done and that's what goes against them. I wasn't being sarchastic when I thanked you for your input BTW, I meant it and have welcomed all contributions made to this thread.

There is nothing more to report now and the advice we have had to date seems very consistent. We have union assistance now and legal advice if we need it so Mark is probably right that the threads can be locked.

Since so many people have been interested I will, however, post any outcome in due course and would just say to anyone else facing difficulties at work to join a union - the cost is minimal (£7 per month IIRC), it's easy to do and you can at least be sure of advice and representation when you most need it. As things get tougher out there, more and more companies are trying to take liberties with their staff and too many get away with it because those at the sharp end give up and walk away.

Thanks again to everyone!
Disciplinary Action - Update - Obsolete
It is also quite possible that the company has a culture of bullying. I have worked in several companies where bullying of subordinates by senior managers was rife. In one UK company in the handheld organiser market verbal abuse of staff by directors was common place. In another company I remember sitting a few feet away from a colleague when a manager had a go at him. It was unpleasant enough for me never mind the victim. Not surprisingly the victim left as did most other people over the next year. Sometimes colleagues will step in if it gets too much but not always. Some join in. Usually the bullied are very good (too good?) at their job. I am not saying this is your case but you never know.

Best of luck.
Disciplinary Action - Update - Fullchat
Might be barking up the wrong tree here but am sure I had some input recently that an employer is not automatically vicariously liable for discrimination/bullying by a member of staff? i.e. In any sucessful claim the person responsible could be liable for damages. Someone may be able to help me here.
Disciplinary Action - Update - Obsolete
You are right that an employer is not automatically liable. It is not easy to take legal action for bullying. A small panthlet by BBC Education (Bullying, a Survival Guide, published in 1997) mentions two routes. The first is to bring a case for constructive dismissal against the organisation though legal aid is usually not available and you must have been employed by them for at least 2 years. The second is to take the organisation to court in a civil action for personal injury or build a case around one of the following laws (and I quote):

"- The 1993 Trades Union reform and employment Rights Act, which gives employees the right not to be disadvantaged at work on health and safety grounds. "

"- The 1995 Criminal Justice Act, which makes an offence of 'intentional harassment' such as the use of insulting words or behaviour (although this may be extremely difficult to prove). "

The guide also states that many people "simply resign and put it all behind them".

However I expect I am simply repeating the content of earlier threads.
Disciplinary Action - Update - Obsolete
Incidentally the BBC guide has many references to useful books, web sites and organisation.
 

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