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Suspended following blog posting - could do with some advice


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I'm an project manager in the NHS and could do with some advice.

 

My line manager called me on Friday afternoon to advise that someone had 'brought it to the attention of the executive team' that there was an 'unpleasant' blog posting with my name at the bottom page. My manager asked me if the blog was mine and I said yes, but hadn't used it for ages (there were only 3 postings, the most recent being the offending one from October of last year).

 

She advised that I was being suspended until the 10th December pending an investigation, saying that they normally do this face to face but as I was off sick Thursday & Friday last week and was supposed to be on annual leave this week she needed to do it over the phone instead.

 

The entry is quite derogatory about people (in general) in the part of the city I work in, but at no point mentions either the organisation I work for or any of my colleagues. It was posted over a year ago a week whilst on sick leave a week after I'd had surgery for a miscarriage (something I failed to mention to my boss).

 

The blog was set up to enable me to develop characterisation for a creative writing class and as soon as my boss flagged it I took the whole thing down and have subsequently posted an explanation with an apology.

 

I'm waiting for a union rep to get in touch but am very worried that I could be sacked for gross misconduct (I'm waiting for a letter from my employer explaining what's going on so currently have no idea exactly what the investigation is for).

 

After reading some of the other responses to similar posts here I went to consult my contract, but on checking my records can't find one (only the confirmation of employment letter and a contract amendment letter following a promotion).

 

My main questions are:

  • Assuming this action is being taken because of the unpleasant nature of the posting can I be sacked for gross misconduct if the piece makes no mention of the organisation or any members of staff?
  • If I've never seen/signed my original contract (highly plausible given our HR department), only a letter amending specific areas following promotion, could I still be sacked for breach of contract if there's anything in there about defaming the people of the borough I work in?

Thanks - and apologies this is so lengthy.

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It's hard to give advice on allegations that we don't actually know, but I am assuming that this is being classed as "bringing the employer into disrepute" which yes, potnetially could be gross misconduct. If you are identifiable, which you were, and that identification could lead back to the employer, which it may, then that would certainly fall under the definition. The fact that this happened outside work and does not involve work collegaues does not mean that your employer cannot action it - people often wrongly assume that what they do outside work does not impact on their employment, but that is not necessarily true. But do remember that even if it could be viewed as gross misconduct, that does not automatically mean that you must be dismissed for it.

 

I would, however, suggest that you work hard on your mitigation. Simply because you were working on a characterisation for a creative writing class does not really explain how you happened to post it on the web - why did it need to be published in this way? Had it not been none of this would have happened. You are also going to have to explain about and evidence the surgery you have not previously disclosed - but a "sympathy vote" isn't likely, so you will need to provide an explanation for how this might have clouded your judgement. Could your doctor help with this?

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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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1. Was comments by the public enabled on all posts? If so, how many comments did you have in the time span indicated and what was the general tone of them?

 

2. Did you register the site with Google or other web browsers? Did you advertise or actively promote the site on other web sites or via any other media?

 

I was involved in a *very* similar case to yours and my letter clearly stated that the charges could construe and act of gross misconduct and if proven, could result in my summarily dismissal.The investigating officer reported back to the General Manager that there was a case to answer and a date for a disciplinary hearing was set. However, I obtained a job with another trust in the meantime and due to a combination of this, a letter I sent to the general manager pleading leniancy and maybe because of nine years with my trust and having a very good record, the disciplinary case was 'stepped down' in their words and my reference will reflect a disciplinary was initiated but will state 'no sanctions imposed'.

 

However, as I say, I tendered my resignation which had a big impact on their assesment of the situation. If that road is not one you are in a position to go down, then I would still say a letter to those concerned is a viable option, showing yourself to be humble and accepting of your error of judgement. You have nothing to lose by that and it may reduce the decision to a final warning rather than dismissal.

 

Though oddly enough, I was not suspended for the seven months it took for the investigation to come to the disciplinary hearing stage but you state you were. Did they feel being in contact with your colleagues was detrimental to the investigation process?

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I recall your post - how is it all going now?

 

But a suspension does not have to be because contact with colleagues is detrimental to the investigation. Basically, an employer can suspend provided that they pay the suspension. Good practice suggests that it should only be used as you describe, but the law doesn't actually say that. As the OP is in a union I wouldn't suggest saying anything else, verbally or in writing, without getting union advice.

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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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Hello MrBlack, SarEl,

Thank you so much for responding so quickly. I've just read your thread MrB and you have my deepest sympathies for what sounds like a very traumatic few months. It's good to see that you've come out of the other side intact with a *relatively* positive outcome. (These cases do suggest that there are far too many officious, humourless folk out there, who could do with chilling out just a teeny bit!)

 

The idea of a letter apologising is great, and just as soon as I have some sort of idea of what I'm actually being accused of I'll try and pull something together, although I don't have 9 years service I've been there for almost 3 and have a good record, including being commended by senior management and promoted during that time so hopefully that may help (but I will ensure I run it past my union rep first). Plus I've removed the offending article and already posted an apology online with an explanation of the mitigating circumstances so hopefully that will provide some sort of damage limitation too.

 

Just to clarify, my employers were aware from the outset that I'd had a miscarriage (I was off work for a fortnight and provided a sick-note to cover me when I got back), I just failed to highlight that the blog entry was written during this time when my line manager spoke to me on Friday.

 

As far as posting on the blog was concerned, to be brutally honest I'm not entirely sure why I posted it (and can't actually remember doing so). It was totally out of character for me and was only the second time I'd actually put anything on the web - and haven't used it since. I know it sounds a bit lame, but I think my hormones were a bit all over the place at the time and I was behaving a bit irrationally.

 

I suspect my employers will want to get this sorted ASAP; our organisation went into 3 months consultation for redundancies last Monday so I’m they'll want to get this out of the way pretty quickly - I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing though.

Thansk again for your advice and support!

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Hello Mr Black, nice to hear from you again. I hope life is going well for you.

 

As I read the OP, I thought of your thread and was about to suggest the OP read it in case it helps.

 

RiaRy, I hope you have some pointers now. Please ask if you need anything else or let us know how you get on please.

 

My best, HB

Illegitimi non carborundum

 

 

 

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