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First of all being placed on suspension is not an automatic assumption of guilt and does not amount to disciplinary action. It is there to be used as a precautionary measure whilst an employer investigates any allegations against the employee. Reasons for suspending could be in the case of gross misconduct, breakdown of relationship, risk to an employer's property, their clients or other employees, to preserve evidence or ensure it is not tampered with, avoid potential witnesses being pressured or intimidated, etc.
During the period of suspension the employer should conduct a reasonable investigation into the allegations against the employee. If the investigation gathers enough evidence to justify the taking disciplinary action that could be the next step. In that case the employee has the right to be informed in advance of the allegations against them and be given the opportunity to prepare for the hearing.
On the other hand, if the investigation does not find enough evidence to justify a disciplinary, the employer should terminate the suspension immediately and allow the employee to return to work as normal.
In terms of whether the evidence can be used against you then that is indeed possible. A negative message about someone does not have to be directed personally at that person for it to be admissible evidence. Let’s say in the case of bullying (not necessarily the case here but it is a valid example), the culprit could be deliberately stirring up negative feelings about someone by badmouthing them to their colleagues – the messages or comments will not be directed to the person but can still amount to misconduct and be used as evidence. So you can see why the employer may be using these in their investigation here but remember they are still investigating so there is no guarantee it will necessarily go further.
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I didn’t mention anywhere you can just be sacked. You have more than 2 years’ continuous service so you are protected against unfair dismissal, therefore the employer must shoe there was a fair reason for dismissal and also follow a fair procedure. Sending a text about someone else to a third party, on its own is unlikely to be serious enough for dismissal, there has to be an ongoing campaign so to speak by you to undermine them or if the comments were made public, such as posted on social media. But the employer has to follow the fairness requirements laid down in law.
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Thank you. Misconduct is a common reason for taking disciplinary action and it is also a potentially fair reason for dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996. It could be a single act of serious misconduct or a series of less serious acts over a period of time.
In order to justify that dismissal on grounds of misconduct was fair, the law requires that the employer:
· Conducts a reasonable investigation;
· Follows a fair disciplinary procedure;
· Has reasonable grounds for believing the employee was guilty; and
· Show that dismissal was a decision that a reasonable employer would have taken in the circumstances.
In addition, the employer is expected to follow the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. Altogether, it means that a disciplinary procedure should be conducted as follows:
1. Investigation - a reasonable investigation is needed. What is reasonable depends entirely on the circumstances and especially the nature and seriousness of the allegations. The more serious these are, the more detailed the investigation needs to be.
2. Disciplinary hearing - if the investigation provides sufficient evidence of misconduct, the employee may be invited to attend a formal disciplinary hearing. They must be given prior notice of the hearing, including details of the allegations, allowing them time to prepare. They have the legal right to be accompanied at the hearing but only by a trade union representative or a colleague.
3. Decision and penalty - following the disciplinary, if the employer holds a genuine belief that the employee was guilty, then they can go ahead and dismiss. When deciding on whether dismissal is appropriate, the employer should consider the nature and seriousness of the offence and the employee's length of service and disciplinary record. They also need to act with a degree of consistency if other employees have previously been disciplined over similar issues. Unless the offence was one of gross misconduct, ACAS recommends that the employee should be issued with a written warning.
In summary, an employer is not expected to prove that the alleged misconduct had definitely occurred. Disciplinary action will be fair if the employer can show that it had conducted a reasonable investigation, followed a fair procedure and held a genuine belief that the employee was guilty. Finally, it must show that the penalty was a reasonable action to take in the circumstances and one that a reasonable employer would have taken.
If there are any doubts or evidence that the above requirements have not been satisfied, an appeal can be submitted to the employer straight after the disciplinary outcome is communicated. If the appeal is rejected a claim for unfair dismissal can be made in the employment tribunal. The time limit to claim is 3 months from the date of dismissal and the claimant needs to have at least 2 years' continuous service with that employer.