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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
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I apologise is a long winded story but feel it is

Resolved Question:

I apologise for what is a long winded story but feel it is important you have most of the pertinent facts.
I am a Secretary in an NHS office dealing with mental health. I was advised by my union and my retired Police Officer husband to keep notes at work (NHS Borders) on what I was doing so that I could be prepared in the event of any false allegations or accusations that I wasn't doing my work efficiently. I had felt harassed, ignored, bullied - although very discreetly) by my Team Secretary over the previous couple of years.
In July 2014 I wrote a few simple notes in a back page of my notebook, taken from stores for my own use (noting phone messages etc) stating
"ignored phone. I was on one phone - had to answer the other when I finished.
Half eleven first appointments not done yet!!
Not done for post at 12.30."
I know the Team Secretary is very slow at her work but would always pass blame downwards for anything not being done, hence keeping the note.
I went for my lunch and on my return the Team Secretary stormed out of the office and went towards the female Line Manager's office. I realised she was in a bad mood for some reason. I then checked my notebook and found that the page with my notes had been ripped out.
30 - 45 mins later the Manager came into the office and asked if I was keeping notes on Karen. I replied "No, I was keeping notes for my own use." She asked what I intended doing with it to which I said "Nothing. It's for my own information." She then said quite accusingly "You realise this is tantamount to bullying!" She left the office and a few minutes later the Team Secretary stormed past the office and out of the building.
The Manager then came back through and told me she had "sent Karen home because she is so upset". I said the note was my own personal property and I wanted it back. She told me she didn't know where it was and it could be in Karen's locked drawer. I told her she must have a key and I wanted the note back and I am entitled to it. She went away and returned with the note but said she had kept a copy.
A couple of weeks later I was referred to Occupational Health. I attended and a letter was sent to the Manager. I asked her "What happens now?" She replied once I get the report we will hold an informal meeting.
A few weeks later I attended the meeting with her and a woman from HR. I had asked my Union Rep to attend with me for support. During the meeting I was basically told for the first time "As you know the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the complaint submitted by your colleague Karen Purves." This was the first I was aware that a formal complaint had been made.
I was given three choices. 1. Mediation - I was happy with that but I was told the other party was not. 2. A move of workplace for one of us. However, as Karen was the only one able to do the 'stats' it would have to be me. 3.Formal investigation.
At the advice of my Union Rep I accepted the move which I was told would be temporary till the major redesign in March 2015.
I was very upset at having to leave my work place after all this time as I felt I had done nothing wrong. I returned to my office the next day as normal. Karen was still of work.
Colleagues who I had worked with for many years and who knew the situation with Karen, asked why I was upset. I said I was being moved but didn't know where to. Most of the staff were supportive of me and some were quite angry. The next day (Friday) I was told by my Manager that I would be moving the following Monday to a dementia ward at the local hospital with no other choice given. My colleagues were to be told if asked that I was being moved temporarily because they were short staffed elsewhere. I had 15 years of property in my drawer so I was allowed to go on the Tuesday. I cleared my drawer and desk on the Monday and moved on the Tuesday. I thought this would be the end of the matter.
About three weeks later I received a letter on a Saturday morning at home from my Manager stating there would be a 'formal investigation to establish the fact around allegations that you may have potentially breached confidentiality by failing to follow a reasonable management instruction regarding the non disclosure of information about a confidential matter involving another member of staff."
The two main questions therefore are
1.Was I entitled to make the notes in my NHS issued notebook and did Karen have the right to go into my notebook and remove it?
2. Did I breach confidentiality by telling colleagues I was being moved - when they all knew the situation?
I realise you will probably not be in a position to reply today but I have a meeting with head of HR and my Union Rep this afternoon at 1.30pm and would have loved to be armed with better knowledge.
Regards
Diane Macdougall
01835 870287
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 2 years ago.
Ben Jones : Hello, my name is ***** ***** it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today. Can I check how long have you worked there for please?
Customer:

16 years this June

Ben Jones :

were you specifically asked not to disclose the move to anyone?

Customer:

If she said it at the meeting I wasn't aware of it because I was so upset. The only time I was aware that I wasn't to disclose the move was when I received the confirmation letter regarding the outcome of the meeting a week later.

Customer:

Are you still working on it?

Ben Jones :

yes I am, will respond shortly

Customer:

Thank you, ***** ***** it had gone a bit quiet.!

Ben Jones :

Ok so to answer your questions:



  1. You would not have breached any specific laws in noting down the information regarding your colleague. That in itself would not necessarily amount to bullying. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) defines bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.” Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the individual subjected to it. If, for example, you were taking notes to then go on and make unwarranted or baseless claims or to use them as a ‘weapon’ to insult or negatively affect the other person then it could be part of a wider bullying issue but these were factual matters about someone’s performance in their job. In my opinion it is not bullying.

  2. As to the allegations that you disclosed confidential information it would depend on what you were specifically instructed to do once you were advised of the move. If the employer had made a specific request that you do not mention details of this to anyone and you went ahead and did so anyway, then it could land you in trouble, although how serious that is would depend on the effect it has had on the employer and others. Was it just some ‘gossip’ so to speak and it would have been revealed by management anyway if someone had asked for details, or it would have been obvious from your movements, then this would not have been a sensitive confidential matter for which you should be reprimanded. Also just because the employer is conducting an investigation does not mean that you are guilty- this is just the preliminary stage, they could still decide to drop it if they do not find any evidence of wrongdoing.

Customer:

Thank you for the information. It reinforces what I think. I agree with all your points. I did lodge a grievance procedure against Karen for harassment. I have been offered that management will drop their grievance from formal to informal but I have to drop mine completely. My union rep states that it is possible they could revert back to formal if not happy and therefore I would have nowhere to go if they are not happy with the answers they get. The management have admitted if they are not happy with answers they could revert back to formal

Customer:

What would you suggest I accept as a resolution?

Ben Jones :

if you were to compromise and drop your complaint and the employer then reverts to a formal procedure it does not prevent you from raising the issues yourself again, especially if you believe that the employer has not acted fairly or reasonably in the circumstances.

Customer:

It was obvious to all staff, they knew the issues I was having with Karen, there was no secret to this and when I told them I was being moved they automatically must have assumed it was over my problems with her. I have worked with these people for a very long time and we all know each other very well and what the other is usually thinking.

Ben Jones :

that will certainly help, also the fact that you do not recall receiving any specific instructions not to mention it and also that the employer would have told employees had they raised the question

Customer:

Thank you for your help. Now to go to battle with HR !!!! Many thanks

Ben Jones :

Best of luck! Hope it goes well

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