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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
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In my current job I made a mistake. I had the wrong part

Resolved Question:

in my current job I made a mistake. I had the wrong part exchanged. The error was detected by me later on, and the right part had then been exchanged.
The exchange process was approved by two senior employees, both did not detect the error either.
Now my company wants to put disciplinary actions on me. I am currently unsure if the senior employees face disciplinary actions, too.
I always thought if an approval is given for an action the liability goes to the approver.
What should I do?
Submitted: 3 months ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 3 months ago.

Hello how long have you worked there for and did you follow all required procedures in this case?

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
This was my first exchange of this type. There were two similar types of these parts in the device (two mainboards in a kind of server) and the case showing the fault was made up on the wrong one. In the meantime having done quite a few of these types I know that this can happen quite easily. But then it was new to me. All my documentation was available to two different reviewers for approval. The company now claims the documentation was poorly done, but at least it was sufficient for both reviewers since they approved. For a technical guy the documentation is sufficient. In fact the documentation seemed to be so good, that both reviewers didn't find the mistake too. It was myself who detected it, because after exchange the error stayed. The suggestion by my senior engineers was then to exchange the case, but I had a hunch something was not right. So I actually prevented further damage.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 3 months ago.

Hi there, it is unfortunately incorrect to assume that just because someone has approved your actions, you escape any liability in relation to them. The approval does not remove the fact that you did something wrong to start with. This in itself can give rise to disciplinary action if the employer deems it necessary. The liability would therefore likely be shared but it would also depend on what procedures were followed (or not followed as the case may be) by each person, their level of responsibility, etc. So there are various possible outcomes – for example, you could be disciplined and those above you may not be; or you could all be disciplined; or they could be disciplined and you could not be.

So now that you have been asked to attend a disciplinary you will really have to follow the process and defend yourself as necessary. The employer has a duty to follow a fair procedure and you do have the option to appeal the outcome if you are unhappy with it.

This is your basic legal position. I have more detailed advice for you in terms of the procedure the employer must follow to ensure the disciplinary is conducted fairly, which I wish to discuss so please take a second to leave a positive rating for the service so far (by selecting 3, 4 or 5 stars) and I can continue with that and answer any further questions you may have. Don’t worry, there is no extra cost and leaving a rating will not close the question and we can continue this discussion. Thank you

Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 44349
Experience: Qualified Solicitor - Please start your question with 'For Ben Jones'
Ben Jones and 2 other Law Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 3 months ago.

Thank you. Alleged misconduct, such as the case here, is a common reason for taking disciplinary action against an employee. It could be due either to a single serious act of misconduct or a series of less serious acts over a period of time.

In order to justify that disciplinary action on grounds of misconduct was fair, the law requires that the employer:

· Conducts a reasonable investigation;

· Follows a fair disciplinary procedure; and

· Shows they had reasonable grounds to believe the employee was guilty.

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 formally sanction them. When deciding on the appropriate penalty, the employer should consider the nature and seriousness of the offence and the employee's disciplinary record. 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 about any of the above and there is belief or evidence that the employer has not satisfied these requirements, an appeal can be submitted to the employer immediately after the disciplinary outcome. If the disciplinary results in dismissal then a claim for unfair dismissal can be made in the employment tribunal. There are two requirements to claim: the employee must have at least 2 years' continuous service with the employer and the claim must be made within 3 months of the date of dismissal.

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