EE manager's tribunal over office fight turns spotlight on workplace violence
03 September 2014 -
Legal proceedings flag up the dangers of sustained bullying or harassment between colleagues amid the everyday pressures of working life
The spectre of physical violence in the workplace has been raised in an employment tribunal case between former call-centre manager Fay Hand and her erstwhile employer Everything Everywhere (EE). In proceedings wrapped up last week, Hand was awarded a five-figure sum after battling EE’s decision to fire her following an outbreak of fighting at the facility she was in charge of.
According to the case notes, up until autumn last year Hand had overseen 11 team leaders and 111 staffers at the telecom company’s Darlington offices. Her role of operations manager had stemmed from a 17-year career in managing call-centre environments.
In the alleged cause for concern that led to her sacking, one of Hand’s employees had played a lengthy series of pranks upon a colleague, Grant Potter. It was further alleged that in September 2013, Potter had suffered a particularly sustained episode of pranking in which the photo on his ID card was scrawled with permanent marker, his keys went missing and a computer game was stolen from his car. After surmising the identity of his bête noire, Potter allegedly approached the individual at his workstation and kicked him in the head until he fell unconscious.
The tribunal further heard that pranks of this nature were part of the call centre’s culture, and were often deployed to offset “somewhat mundane and repetitive work”.
Following the incident, Potter had returned to work with a statement fully outlining the pranks he had suffered, which ran to three pages. A total of seven employees were summarily dismissed to stamp out the footprint of bullying and harassment. These included Potter, the man he attacked, and Ms Hand – whose management of events leading up to the incident was deemed ineffective.
At the tribunal, Hand’s lawyer John Mitton had said: “We believe that the punishment being summary dismissal is completely disproportionate for someone with this amount of service and an exemplary record. At the very worst, a final warning should have been issued.” Hand, meanwhile, told the Hartlepool Mail: “I put an awful lot of time and effort into that job. I loved it and everyone who worked with me would vouch for that.”
In awarding Hand’s damages, the ruling judge criticised EE’s “haphazard” handling of the incident, and explained: “The tribunal further found that the decision to dismiss the claimant was itself outside the range of reasonable responses, taking into account the claimant’s age, length of service and previous unblemished record.”
EE said in a statement: “We are one of the largest employers in Darlington. We take our responsibilities towards our staff very seriously and have robust policies in place that ensure a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment in the workplace. We accept the tribunal’s ruling.”
CMI also takes conflict management and bullying very seriously. Its handy Checklist guide Teams and Individuals outlines several strategies that managers can adopt for dealing with these difficult issues.
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