Friday, September 20

Business aid: Difficult conversations and whistleblowing

- January 15, 2013

Samantha Dickinson of local solicitors Dean Wilson LLP answers questions on employment law. This week: Difficult conversations and whistleblowing

Q. Just before Christmas one of my employees made various statements about our Health & Safety record to his line manager. Because they were untrue statements, I want to discipline him. Is it too late to take action?
A. Not necessarily, no, but before you do anything you should ask for a written statement from the line manager as to exactly what was said. You need to see this before you decide whether disciplinary proceedings are appropriate.

Q. I’m not very good at having difficult conversations with staff. Can the line manager deal with it?
A. No. The line manager is a witness so they cannot decide upon or take disciplinary action. You could delegate the matter to another manager but whoever deals with the issue does need to act promptly.

Q. Because the things the employee said were untrue I presume I am entitled to dismiss him for lying, after I have followed a proper disciplinary procedure?
A.You should bear in mind the whistleblowing legislation. The law protects employees who have made a “protected disclosure” from dismissal such that you can’t dismiss an employee on the grounds of them having disclosed information that tends to show a danger to Health & Safety. Whistleblowing legislation is complex and the exact detail of what was said is crucially important. The fact it may be untrue does not mean the employee loses whistleblowing protection so long as they believe what they said is true. It is impossible to know if this employee has made a protected disclosure without knowing what was said. This is why your first step must be to get a written statement.

Q. Would I be better off just dealing with the matter informally?

A. You might be, but if you want to take disciplinary action you must follow a formal procedure. I would suggest that after you have the manager’s written statement you have a quiet word with the employee. They may have been misinformed themselves or they may have made the comments because they are unhappy about something but if you can deal with the matter informally maybe you can nip things in the bud. If you do have an informal meeting make sure you let them know you are dealing with it informally because you want to resolve matters. Do keep an open mind and try to avoid any heat-of-the-moment decisions.

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