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Too Harsh???

(82 Posts)
Grandad1943 Fri 05-Apr-19 16:03:47

This matter has caused much debate within our office, so I am wondering what people outside our industry think of this safety issue which has seen a young person dismissed from her employment.

The employee (a young female single parent) had been employed in an office administration role within a large distribution centre. Her hours were 09:45 am until 2:30 pm in which it was essential that she left promptly at that time so as to collect her six-year-old daughter from school.

Approximately two weeks ago just prior to the end of her shift, she noticed an error in stock control on the system. Six pallets of a product was being shown as having been delivered to the site but were not showing up as being in the stockholding on the warehouse racking. Realising that the error could cause a delay in loading vehicles overnight, she decided to go down to the warehouse herself and check to see if the pallets were actually there.

The standing safety instruction in the complex is that any person not permanently employed in the warehouse must report to the loading dock office supervisor prior to entering the warehouse. Due to the need to pick up her daughter on time, that instruction she did not follow and as she approached the area of the warehouse she felt the pallets should be, signs were displaying that pedestrians must not enter that area as forklifts were operating.

In the above, the employee could see that no forklifts were in the picking aisle she wished to access, so she quickly entered that area and witnessed that the pallets were actually on the racking. However, as she was hurrying away a forklift came into the aisle, the driver seen her and stopped, then gave a friendly gesture that allowed her to leave the area without him saying anything. She then rang up to her office and asked a work colleague to manually change the stock holding report on the system and left work believing she had "in going beyond the call of duty", prevented what could have been severe delays on the loading docks that night.

On reporting for work next morning, the employee was immediately told to report to the loading Dock office supervisor where she was asked to make a statement concerning her activities in the warehouse the previous day. On completing that the employee was immediately suspended from duty pending a full disciplinary hearing.

My company attended that disciplinary hearing in a safety advisory role to the employer and where gross misconduct was alleged by management against the employee. The employee stated that her actions had only been in the best interests of the company, and the only person placed at risk was herself. She added further, that action would not even have occurred had she not voluntarily gone beyond what could have reasonably expected of her at the very end of her shift. The employee was asked had she not considered the mental impact the forklift driver may have suffered had that vehicle collided with her causing severe injury. To that, she did not answer.

The employee was dismissed from her employment at the end of the hearing when she broke down pleading on the effects that would have on her and her young daughter. Her appeal against that dismissal was held yesterday (04/04/19), and at that hearing her dismissal was upheld, and again she became very distressed.

A Reginal Director took that appeal and informed her that she had "some sympathy" with her argument that she only acted in the best interest of the complex, but that precedent set by previous similar safety infringement cases made her dismissal inevitable.

So, was her dismissal too harsh, or justified? I have attended many company disciplinaries brought about by safety infringements over the years, but this one left me feeling upset.

Gonegirl Fri 05-Apr-19 16:11:34

If she left work at 2.30 why couldn't she have emailed someone else to check on this?

GrandmaMoira Fri 05-Apr-19 16:11:51

I don't know the law or the company rules but I would have thought that most employers would have put a warning on her file rather than immediate dismissal. I thought immedidate dismissal was for things such as theft.

Bridgeit Fri 05-Apr-19 16:17:40

Presumably the company has a scale of disciplinary action.
If it does not then she should have a case to argue.
If it does & she went against it then no matter how good her intention was , they probably have no choice but to dismiss her.

Grandad1943 Fri 05-Apr-19 16:19:50

Gonegirl, her job share who normally takes over from her had reported sick the previous day, so their was no one else readily available to go down to the warehouse and check.

GrandmaMoira, gross misconduct is allegations are often brought against employees, especially when they have endangered other people.

Ilovecheese Fri 05-Apr-19 16:21:04

It is sad that she lost her job, but I feel that it was the right decision.
Once a culture of ignoring safety regulations 'in the interests of the company' becomes established, it is all too easy for that to become not only acceptable, but encouraged and eventually, almost inevitably, a serious injury or worse will occur.

Safety must always trump efficiency, and a company is, in my view, to be applauded for making this absolutely clear to their employees, thus showing the employees that their well being is important to the company.

Perhaps, at her appeal, she could have been reinstated but be placed under a written warning that any further breaches, for whatever reason, would lead to dismissal.

Gonegirl Fri 05-Apr-19 16:23:29

But you say she rang up to her office and got colleague to Chang the stock handling report. Couldn't she have rang that colleague first to get him/her to check the whole thing. Must have been someone in the office who could have done it.

maryeliza54 Fri 05-Apr-19 16:25:58

Given the facts above, I would have thought a final written warning would have sufficed. Poor woman - it will affect her benefits and getting another job.

Teetime Fri 05-Apr-19 16:27:15

I agree that would have been a final written warning in my world.

Grandad1943 Fri 05-Apr-19 16:28:55

Bridgeit as she has only been employed by the company for 18 months she will not be able to take her case to an industrial tribunal.

janeainsworth Fri 05-Apr-19 16:30:13

Sorry but I think it was the right decision.
She put both the dock office supervisor and the driver in an invidious position.
She may have been putting only herself at risk, but put the driver, the supervisor and the company itself at risk.

If there had been an accident, no doubt the Health & Safety Executive would have successfully prosecuted both the company and the other employees.

maryeliza54 Fri 05-Apr-19 16:30:36

There was no ill intent in what she did - quite the reverse. I think that should have weighed more in her favour - final written warnings are very severe and I’m sure one would have done the job.

Florence64 Fri 05-Apr-19 16:32:00

My husband is a contracts manager in charge of several building sites. Most accidents happen because people ignore the safety advice they have been given, but inevitably it reflects on him if an accident occurs, even if it is not his fault. This is a tremendous responsibility and it causes him a lot of work and grief ensuring that employees and contractors adhere to safety procedures - i.e. hard hats, high visibility clothes, toolbox talks and daily inductions on health and safety - it is something companies take very, very seriously. I'm afraid your colleague ignored all the rules, for whatever reason and put herself and others at risk. It is upsetting because she's a single mum with a young daughter, but can you imagine how upsetting it would be for someone like my husband (a grandfather of 5) to have to deal with the aftermath if an accident had occurred?

maryeliza54 Fri 05-Apr-19 16:35:17

I know many health care staff who have put patients at risk ( or actuslly harmed them) and they have been given another chance - perhaps she could have been sent on a refresher health and safety course. I think
past behaviour and intent should be part of the decision making as well as showing genuine remorse and an awareness of why it was wrong.

EllanVannin Fri 05-Apr-19 16:38:22

A written warning should have sufficed. The decision was very harsh under the circumstances, terrible.

maryeliza54 Fri 05-Apr-19 16:42:23

I appreciate that dealing with the aftermath of an accident is really difficult but if every doctor dentist nurse was sacked who made even a serious ( or potentially serious) mistake we’d lose a lot of staff. Recently at a local NHS trust there was a ‘never event’. As the name suggests, it should never have happened. The very elderly patient had to have repeat surgery but survived. The surgeon ( whose responsibility it was) was terribly upset, He had a blameless record and everyone has reviewed what happened and is sure it won’t happen again and he continues working.

Grandad1943 Fri 05-Apr-19 17:05:06

To add to the original opening post, at the end of both the disciplinary hearing and the appeal the employee was asked to leave the room while a lengthy discussion took place in regard to what the punishment should be in her case.

On both occasions, there was much sympathy in that she was genuinely trying to help the company in carrying out her actions.

However, it was felt that precedence had been set in previous similar safety infringement cases within the company where employees had been dismissed. That it was felt may have made the company liable to claims by those former employees and limit what punishment could be levied in the future should anything lesser had been given.

goldengirl Fri 05-Apr-19 17:13:36

Anywhere that involves forklift trucks and pallets has stringent health and safety rules. Sorry, but the ruling was correct in spite of the good intentions. If one person 'gets away with it' it raises all sorts of problems should another follow suit

midgey Fri 05-Apr-19 17:20:17

Afraid I agree that it was the right decision. Perhaps the company might be able to find her another job as her financial position must be perilous right now.

janeainsworth Fri 05-Apr-19 17:24:58

maryeliza I'm not sure you can compare a healthcare setting with an industrial one.

In healthcare, there's always a risk, both from the risk factors that a patient brings with them in terms of their medical history, and risks associated with the competence of the professionals who are delivering care. These risks have to be assessed and managed.

In construction and industry the risks are much more clearly defined, the rules are there, clearly stated, and basically, you comply. You don't take it upon yourself to manage risk differently from standing orders, in what you imagine are the interests of the company.

Please don't think I don't sympathise with this young woman. I do. But I think the only mitigation would be if she could demonstrate that her H&S training had been inadequate.

M0nica Fri 05-Apr-19 17:25:54

If she has an otherwise blameless record, I think that any fair employer would use their creativity to find a way round this.

Alternatively, would she have a claim against them because the person who should have taken over from her was not present and the employer had made no allowance for how to deal with any emergency in their absence, or on sex discrimination that she had to deal with a stock discrepancy and again there was no one to cover in a specific case like this where she could not stay to sort it out because she had to be home for her child.

Who would have been held responsible if there had been a stock discrepancy and she hadn't found out? Would it have been her, which brings us back tt the replacement/sex discrimination argument.

Could they get an employment lawyer in with the task of sorting this tangle out to everybodies satisfaction. It strains against every fibre of justice.

sodapop Fri 05-Apr-19 17:29:34

I think her reasons were immaterial really, what she did was wrong. However if this was her first offence I think a written warning would have sufficed.

FarNorth Fri 05-Apr-19 17:30:06

It was the right decision.

Grandad1943 Fri 05-Apr-19 17:34:27

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

M0nica Fri 05-Apr-19 17:40:06

I assume that her employer will give her a good reference and help her find a new job.