HR Horror Story Blog Series – Edition 1: Hit me baby one more time…

In this story hear about the employees who turned a little Britney on each other, and learn how to tackle serious misconduct that occurs outside the workplace.

In the workplace it’s only natural to gravitate to some individuals while wanting to keep either a little or a lot of distance from others. But where do we draw the line? What causes us to dislike, hate or even want to inflict violence on a co-worker?

During my many years of being a Manager I have always managed large teams of 15-20 people. While I am not expecting everyone to be sitting around singing ‘kumbaya’ during lunch breaks, I didn’t expect a re-enactment of the Ali versus Foreman knock out to occur one evening after work.

So what happened? It started when two lovely young ladies in my team had not seen eye to eye from day one. They would constantly find flaws in each other’s work, lay blame when work was missed and basically just try to get the other in trouble. (Honestly, my children behave better!)

One afternoon after a day of bickering and cattiness (did I hear you say cat fight?) the ladies left the building for the day to head home peacefully, well that’s what I thought!

Two hours later I received a phone call from one of the ladies advising me of some events that had taken place on what should have been a simple walk to the train station.

The ladies had left the building at the same time, let’s call them B1 and B2 for the sake of this story. B1 had said something under her breath to B2 that caused some tensions in the lift. Thinking nothing of her snide remarks B1 headed down to the train station. While B1 was on her merry way she suddenly felt a smack to the side of her head. (Imagine a marvel comic with the image of a Ka-Pow!).

B1 dropped to the floor like a sack of spuds. Fortunately her fall was broken but unfortunately it was broken by an innocent bystander, an elderly woman with her shopping trolley (yes imagine all the nannas you see at Coles on pension day).

After checking if anyone had required medical attention I hung up the phone and pondered how was I going to deal with this in the morning? This had gone beyond just disliking a co-worker, it had now escalated to a full blown assault! (Not to mention the poor old nanna!).

The next day when I arrived at work I spoke to B1 to make sure she was ok and then to B2 to get her version of events. Low and behold the stories did not match up at all! (Never let the truth get in the way of a good story I say).

Lucky for me an independent witness had seen the ‘fight’ unfold on the way to the train station, so I could at least verify what happened.

After I conducted a formal meeting where I presented B2 with the allegations and gave her the opportunity to respond, we took some serious time to consider all the evidence and then decided to terminate B2 on the ground of serious misconduct. It was a pretty easy decision given the evidence and history but whilst I escorted B2 from the building she threw her employee pass at me and hissed at me ‘Watch your back”. Luckily, my years of kick boxing meant I was always ready to duck and weave from all kinds of punches! Although I must admit, I do look over my shoulder when walking to the train station after work now!

So what constitutes as serious misconduct I hear you ask?

When an employee has committed serious misconduct this is really the only instance that instant dismissal without notice is considered appropriate.

To be clear the Fair Work Regulations define ‘serious misconduct’ as:

  1. Engaging in theft, fraud or assault
  2. Being intoxicated at work
  3. Wilful or deliberate behaviour by an employee that is inconsistent with the continuation of the contract of employment
  4. The employee refusing to carry out a lawful and reasonable instruction that is consistent with the employee’s contract of employment
  5. Conduct that causes serious and imminent risk to the health and/or safety of a person or the reputation, viability or profitability of the employer’s business

How do I handle serious misconduct?

Once you have established an employee has been involved in serious misconduct and you are considering terminating their employment you need to ensure you follow a few steps:

  1. Depending on the seriousness of the misconduct the first step would be stand the employee down on full pay whilst you conduct your investigation and gather evidence. (Click on link to receive your free example stand down letter).
  2. Once you have the evidence you need organise a meeting with the employee as soon as possible. Advise the employee what the meeting is about (usually in writing) and offer them the opportunity to bring a support person to the meeting.
  3. During the meeting present all the evidence you have gathered surrounding the event prior. This may include statements from other employees or clients who witnessed the serious misconduct.
  4. Allow they employee the opportunity to respond to the allegations during the meeting and explain why their activities and/or actions were considered serious misconduct.
  5. Once the employee has responded to the allegations end the meeting. Advise the employee you will consider all the evidence presented and make a decision about the employee’s future employment with the company.
  6. Once you have considered all the evidence, the employee’s responses to the allegations and you conclude that the employee has engaged in serious misconduct. You may then terminate the employee without providing any notice. You must provide the employee with a termination letter outlining why the employee has been terminated.

Obviously employee misconduct situations are highly complex, no two cases are ever the same, and there will always be conflicting information and high tension. Our advice is to ensure you follow your internal policies around misconduct and investigations and always seek out an independent investigator for serious cases. If you need assistance with reviewing or updating your internal policies or if you have a serious misconduct in your workplace and you are not sure how to handle it, get in touch today.

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