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Advice on investigatory meeting after suspensio


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Hi guys,

I'll try and keep this short(ish)but give background info that might help people giv eme advice.

Last monday I was called in just before a staff meeting and told that an allegation had been made against me that I had been drinking on work premises with clients. I was suspended on full pay whilst it was investigated.

 

Now that full allegation would be misconduct. But its not true.

 

I DID have alchohol on work premises (after hrs/off duty) with colleagues, this is something that has happened before and in fact our old boss used to organise staff parties (Xmas etc) where there was alchohol.

My first question is, can I still be disciplined for having alchohol on work premises? If so do i have a right to request that other workers who have done so aqre subject to a similar process to ensure that this isn't discrimination

 

I am also not very happy with the way it has been handled.

I have asked for copies of the relevant policies..... but not yet received them.

Whilst I've been suspended, none of the other staff who were present have been interviewed so I don't know how it has been investigated.

I have not been allowed to send a vetted 'out of office' email, so my sudden absence has been unexplained which has impacted negativly on the perception of my project.

Despite a verbal discussion and two detailed emails regarding my onoing caseload, my boss has not informed people that I would not be attending meetings/ prearranged apts and he has forbidden me to do so.

Also clients who I had commitments to have been let down because my boss has not ensured that they continued to receive any level of service during my absence. (resulting in two rather upset clients emailing me after their financial/work situations were negativly affected because they didn't receive the support they should get form our organisation:x)

The incident invovled other staff and no-one else has been suspended or disciplined in any way.

Do I have any grounds for a greivance based on the above:?:

 

My investigation meeting is tommorrow at 11am, would apprecaite any advice/ help

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If there are rules against drinking alcohol on works permises then there are rules against it, and the "technicality" that you were drinking with collegaues and not with clients isn't going to save your skin. So the starting point is - is there a rule against drinking alcohol on works premises? If there isn't, then you might argue that since others had done so, yoiu did not realise that it was considered inappropriate (assuming that it was not during works time - during works time would obviously be consdiered not a time to be drinking). If there is, you can still try this argument - but I wouldn't be quite a sanguine about it, because an occasional relaxation of the rule for an officially sanctioned celebration, such as Christmas, is not quite the same thing as sitting around drinking in September (therefore - not Christmas). So yes, you can be disciplined for drinking on works premises - but you have not yet been disciplined and so you have a chance to argue why you shouldn't be at your investigatory meeting. However "others do it so I did" is a really poor argument, and I wouldn't depend on it - not least because, as I said, occasional sanctioned special occasions are not the same thing as your hanging around the office after hours and drinking; but also because the fact that others have done it doesn't give you carte blanche to do it too - you wouldn't throw yourself off a cliff if others did it would you?

 

While you have been suspended - how would you know that none of your collegaues have been interviewed? Because alongside "suspended" also goes "and do not talk to your work colleagues about this matter (or possibly at all)". The investigation is also still ongoing, so whether they will be or not is something that you do not know. Nor do you know how the company found out about this, or whether they know who else is involved. You are, of course, at liberty to "grass up" your colleagues who also drink on the premises, but it isn't an approach that I would necessarily recommend since you will be suitably unpopular with anyone you drag into this who may not currently be under scrutiny - but that is your choice. Of course, if you don't say who else has been drinking or drinking with you, then that may be equally not something that management is impressed by, so it may be a two edged sword whichever way that you go.

 

How your employer manages your absence and your work is their concern, and you don't have any right to complain about it. It might not be how you would do it, but that's their problem not yours - I would suggest that you concentrate on what is your problem, which is defending yourself against these allegations.

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I am a barrister specialising in employment law, and only represent employees. My advice on employment issues is advice - not legal opinion - and is based only on the facts you provide. If you want an accurate assessment of your case and prospects, you should get legal opinion from a lawyer - not a public forum. Anything I tell you is for guidance only, and is based on my experience of the law in the context of what details you provide.

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Hi, agree about the work issue while you are off, you may not be happy about it but thats your employers problem, just as if you took ill unexpectedly they would need to deal with it, and you would have no say in it.....equally you cannot be held accountable for anything that happens as a result of the way your employer deals with your workload while you are off. It is normal procedure for employer to tell suspendee to have no contact with colleagues and customers/clients....it would be in your best interest to observe this. It is far more professional to do so and will reflect well on you if you do; otherwise you could be facing further allegations. From personal experience, staff that I have had dealings with that do not observe this tend to be viewed negatively and as 'trouble makers'. Apart from this, it is quite complicated. If your employer has a 'no alcohol' policy then you would need to show that 1/ it was outwith work time 2/ that you were not aware that this was a no-no, and in order to do this illustrate times whenit had been allowed before 3/ employers do need to treat all employees fairly, equally and justly, so if your employer has been aware of other instances of staff drinking after hours on the premises and have taken no action then there would be an issue. However the xmas party one probably won't wash, unless you were drinking at a special occassion. You will be told tomorrow either that there are no grounds for for an investigation or that there will be an investigation. You should take a union rep or other person in with you. You should be given access to policies particularly the disciplinary policy and the alcohol one. If tomorrow is anything other than that then you need to make sure that you object as you should be sent out a copy of the disciplinary investigation report before the meeting with a list of allegations and the findings with evidence. Again this will all be detailed in your companies disciplinary policy,

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You should take a union rep or other person in with you.

 

The employer may not permit this. The right in law to be accompanied is to disciplinary / grievance hearing - not to investigatory meetings.

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I am a barrister specialising in employment law, and only represent employees. My advice on employment issues is advice - not legal opinion - and is based only on the facts you provide. If you want an accurate assessment of your case and prospects, you should get legal opinion from a lawyer - not a public forum. Anything I tell you is for guidance only, and is based on my experience of the law in the context of what details you provide.

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Hi,

thanks for the input. The Xmas party was one of several occasions on which alcohol was on the premises.

The reason I felt it was relevent is that I was not aware that there was any policy against alcohol on work premises, and as I had been present at and aware of occasions when staff (including the boss) brought drink along to staff events on the premises I thought that it was not a problem.

This incident was a 'special' occasion, we had (with our bosses full agreement although he wasn't present) gathered to say thank you and give presents to a staff member who had acheived something special.

 

the reason I requested the policies (which i have been refused access to) is that I have never seen a copy of an alcohol policy and I did not recall anything in the main staff handbook. (which I do not have a copy of, I was shown it early in my appointment but it is being rewritten and I am not part of that team)

 

I have been told to have no contact and i have to the best of my ability kept to this. The reason I said no-one has been questioned is that late last week I was allowed to go in to collect something from the office and colleagues who were there at the incident gave no indication that they had been questioned. I can see that they may have been hiding it but I know them very well and they gave no hint in their behaviuor or questions (why i was off, was I OK, was anything wrong with my family etc).

In addition no-one else has been suspended (I know because everyone was there when I went in) and as I was not the only one who was drinking that night I have either been singled out, or a full investigation has not taken place.

 

 

The 'technicality' is important, if I HAD been drinking with clients it would be a sackable offence.

Also the allegation was specific that it was drinking with clients on the premises, which means someone made an unfounded allegation against me with no evidence to support it.

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Actually, if drinking on the premises is not permitted, it doesn't matter who you were drinking with - it could still be a sackable offence. It is quite common to have a rule in workplaces that bans drinking alcohol on the premises, but is occasionally and with permission is relaxed for special occasions. The difference is that you are describing occasions when a manager has permitted drinking - this one does not seem to be one where a manager did so. But at this stage it is an investigation - it may indeed be the case that they haven't had the full story or the allegations are unfounded. That is the point of having an investigation - to decide what has happened and whether it warrants disciplinary action. It doesn't mean that it will go that far, and all you can do is explain what happened and why you didn't think it was wrong.

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I am a barrister specialising in employment law, and only represent employees. My advice on employment issues is advice - not legal opinion - and is based only on the facts you provide. If you want an accurate assessment of your case and prospects, you should get legal opinion from a lawyer - not a public forum. Anything I tell you is for guidance only, and is based on my experience of the law in the context of what details you provide.

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OK, I amnot aware at all of a rule saying we can't have alcohol on the premises. If this is a policy/rule but I havn't seen that policy what is the worst they can do to discipline me?

and do they have to treat everyone the same, eg should everyone who was drinking alchohol that night be subject to same disciplinary?

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Hi..... "have a right to request that other workers who have done so aqre subject to a similar process to ensure that this isn't discrimination" So assuming they have picked on you and they are using this as an excuse to discipline you and sack you, what other events / incidents / comments etc gives rise to you suspecting that it may be discriminatory? What kind of discrimination?

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There may or may not be a written rule. However on a common sense approach i imagine the consumption of alcohol would be prohibited by its employees on company property without approval from a senior manager. Though a rule isnt written down doesnt mean it dont exist, the rule would be an implied term.

Your employer would be justified in treating your conduct as gross miss-conduct so be mindful you could face dismissal.

Your employer will be asking

1. Why did you bring alcohol onto company property

2. Why did you decide to drink it on company property

3. Was you drinking on your own

4. Was you drinking in company time

How will you answer these questions?

 

At this stage its still an investigation, your employer will indeed ask why you were drinking. I imagine you will give your reasons and state you were drinking with colleagues.

To conclude your investigatory meeting you should be re-suspended and your colleagues interviewed. If all admit to drinking you should all receive the same disciplinary sanction at any disciplinary meeting.

If nobody else is interviewed and disciplined then that would be your grounds for appeal if only you were disciplined.

However I suspect your employer will be focusing on the person who bought the alcohol onto company premises. You should be prepared to defend this,. if indeed it was you

Edited by colin813
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1. Why did you bring alcohol onto company property

2. Why did you decide to drink it on company property

3. Was you drinking on your own

4. Was you drinking in company time

 

I didn't bring the alchohol

we were drinking in our own time

we were drinking as part of a continuation of a celebratory work event

we were on work premises because it was a work related celebration

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sorry, I dont quite understand how there can be an 'unwritten rule' especially if its one that I have witnessed being 'broken' on other occasions. How would I know it was a rule?

I have worked for several organisations like this one (its very small, very family/people focused) and at most of them alcohol was always permitted on work premises for 'out of work time'staff events and celebrations.

 

I accept that it might not have been the best judgement call in the world, but in the absence of a 'rule' or policy prohibiting it I'm not sure how seriuos sharing a bottle of wine with 2 colleagues (the other one had beer) as part of a work related celebration actually is.

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Just because you have witnessed the consumption of alcohol doesnt make it right in your circumstances.

 

This may sound harsh but its simply a fact

 

You have no right to bring alcohol onto work premises, you have no right to consume alcohol on work premises.

 

As an employer you trust your employees not to drink on work premises, like i said on a common sense approach the consumption of alcohol would be prohibited. Whilst you are on your employers premises your employer has a duty of care. What if there was a fire, what if you left your employers premises, drove and killed someone. Your employer would have failed in their duty of care not only to you but the general public.

for example if i was an employer i would trust my employees not to consume alcohol on my premises without my knowing

 

The implied term here is trust and confidence

Edited by colin813
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I'm afraid that I have to agree with Colin813, and whilst I feel that a dismissal would probably be unjustified (in the absence of a written rule to this effect, and assuming there is nothing else on your disciplinary record), I cannot say with absolute confidence that a tribunal would agree with that. There is some merit to the implied trust and confidence argument - it doesn't take a genius to work out that drinking alcohol on work premises is not a good idea and is potentially dangerous. What happens in other workplaces has no relevance, and as I have already said, there is a vast difference between a sanctioned Christmas party which is approved by a manager (and for which the employer therefore takes responsiibility) and an impromptu one that a small number of employees decided to have because they had a bottle on the premises.

 

But it is still the case that this is only at an investigatory stage and we do not know if it will proceed any further, or it might come down to an informal slap on the wrists for poor judgement.

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I am a barrister specialising in employment law, and only represent employees. My advice on employment issues is advice - not legal opinion - and is based only on the facts you provide. If you want an accurate assessment of your case and prospects, you should get legal opinion from a lawyer - not a public forum. Anything I tell you is for guidance only, and is based on my experience of the law in the context of what details you provide.

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I think that your best approach is to mitigate as far as is possible on the basis that you were acting in the belief that such limited aconsumption of alcohol was accepted by the company for special occasions and you genuinely believed that this was such an occasion. That would as far as I am concerned sound better than the argument that you don't see a problem with it. Because you have been involved in similar events, there was a misunderstanding on your part that this was permitted by the management. This will be helped if there is no mention of alcohol consumption in a Company Handbook (the fact that you may not have read it is unlikely to be a defence if you were aware of it's existence - many contracts give a basic outline and refer employees to a Handbook displayed in a staff room, or on a noticeboard for full T&Cs)

 

There is in almost every company handbook or basic list of what might constitute Gross Misconduct a clause regarding consumption of alcohol on company premises or during working hours. In addition to the possibility that staff may become intoxicated, there is a general responsibility for Health & Safety in the workplace, and the employer is responsible for the staff whilst they are on the premises. If they are willing to sanction alcohol consumption for whatever reason, then the management are accepting all associated risks on behalf of the company. It would not be acceptable for others to accept that risk on their behalf. Even if a broken wine glass were to cause a cut to somebody's finger, there may well be a case for a Personal Injury claim against the company as they were responsible for that person's safety at the time of the injury. They would have a strong defence if they could demonstrate that they had acted in sufficient a manner as to minimise the risk of injury, but would stand no chance if they could not show that there was a strict policy in place to discourage drinking in the workplace other than for strictly controlled events held with prior permission.

Any advice given is done so on the assumption that recipients will also take professional advice where appropriate.

 

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