The case of the missing F mug and how to deal with misconduct issues
DENTAL BULLETIN, ISSUE 37
It all began on 14th December 2016, when John Howey, Partner at JFH Law, announced he had broken a J mug washing up. ‘The handle just came off when I was washing out the inside’ he confirmed. At first we all laughed and there was some light hearted banter about Mr Howey not knowing his own strength; but things then took a turn for the worst.
Missing the F mug
Julia Furley, Partner at JFH Law, recalls:
At first it was all a bit of fun. We were laughing away, but then I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was drinking from a J mug. It became immediately clear to me that John couldn’t have broken a J mug. I therefore made the management decision to investigate further, attending the kitchen and conducting an audit of the firm’s J, F and H mugs.”
After Ms Furley had completed the stock-take it was discovered that all of the F mugs had mysteriously disappeared. It might be helpful at this point for the reader to note that we have a variety of mugs with the letters J, F and H on them. With the F mugs all gone, we no longer had our identity!
On 15th December 2016 Ms Furley vigorously interrogated all the staff as to their movements over the previous year and whether they had had any accidents involving an F Mug. Everyone denied having broken a mug. The plot thickened.
Anges Biel, paralegal, was tasked with making enquires with the cleaner, after completing her investigations she confirmed ‘the cleaner is denying any breakages but I have my doubts. I found out his name is Franz Ferdinand’. We were certainly suspicious. Could it be that Mr Ferdinand supplementing his own collection of mugs with our Fs?
Whilst we now have the expense of re-stocking our kitchen with F mugs, we are also left wondering; what if M&S no longer stock lettered mugs?
Everyone at the office has been left unsettled by these unfolding events. Jigna Varsani, solicitor, provide us with this quote:
I just don’t know why someone would want to take all of our F mugs. We are a close team but I am now left suspicious of those around me. I have my own mug and I now take this home to protect it. I just don’t know what I would do if anything happened to it.
The mystery continues here at JFH Law but what lessons can your dental practice learn from Mug Gate?
Laura Pearce, senior solicitor at JFH Law, advises:
The morale of this story is; don’t trust your staff. Theft is theft. Make sure all surgery property is under lock and key and only the managers can access it. Have a signing in and out form for each time staff members want to use a mug or a pen. Search bags as staff are leaving and undertake random stripe searches. If you find that anyone has taken anything, shout very loudly ‘you’re fired’ and escort them off the premises.
We also spoke to Duncan Roberts, criminal solicitor, to get his take on the situation:
Don’t bother phoning the police; deal with it yourself. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth has always been my motto.
If you need any advice about marching staff of your premises or medieval punishments, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance. And if anyone sees any of our F mugs, please let us know immediately; there will be a reward for anyone who helps in their safe return.
How to deal with gross misconduct in 3 steps
On a more serious note, dealing with gross misconduct can be difficult; when you work in a small practice, if a member of staff has taken something that does not belong to them, trust can break down and emotions may run high.
Before you jump the gun and start firing staff, take a step back and follow this simple 3 step process to help you avoid landing in hot water.
Step 1 – Investigate
Call the employee into a meeting and question them about the incident. This should be informal and a meeting to gather information not make allegations. You do not need to write to the employee beforehand inviting them to the meeting. They do not have any right to a representative at the investigatory meeting.
After the meeting, consider whether you need to suspend the employee. This should be a last resort and not an automatic response to allegations of misconduct.
If someone else reported the incident, obtain a statement from them too. Is there any other evidence you can obtain to help you make a decision?
At the end of this process gather together the information you have and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to take the matter via a formal route.
It is at this point you can weigh up the seriousness of the allegation and decide whether an informal chat with the employee would be enough to rectify the behaviour. Some companies take a hard line and consider any theft amounts to gross misconduct, whilst others may view the theft of a pen as less serious and give a simple ‘slap on the wrist’ warning not to do it again. Remember whatever line you take make sure you treat all employees the same.
Step 2 – Disciplinary Meeting
If you consider the allegation is serious enough to take formal action, write to the employee and invite them to a disciplinary meeting. The letter needs to clearly set out the allegations and state that if found prove it could result in summary dismissal. At this meeting, the employee is entitled to be represented by either a trade union representation or work colleague, and you should remind them of this in the letter. Finally, make sure all evidence you have obtained is sent to the employee so they can comment on it.
You should give the employee time to prepare for the disciplinary meeting; how much time you give will depend on how much information there is.
At the meeting put the allegations to the employee and give them a chance to respond.
We would recommend adjourning the hearing to make your decision. If you do this and carry out any further investigations, you will need to re-convene the hearing and give the employee a chance to comment on any new information that comes to light.
Write to the employee with the outcome. Set out in detail why you have come to your decision. If you do dismiss the employee, offer the right of appeal.
Step 3 – Appeal
If the employee appeals the decision, you should invite them to an appeal meeting. This should be heard by someone different to the disciplinary hearing and more senior if possible.
Again the employee is entitled to be accompanied at this meeting.
Hold the meeting and let the employee put forward their grounds of appeal. Following the meeting, write to the employee with the final outcome.
The above three step process is based on the ACAS code of practice, which you should always look to follow. You should also consider what your own policies say and try to follow them where possible. You can read other ways to tackle misconduct in our article Taking the Headache out of Managing Employees.
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Laura Pearce, Senior Solicitor
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.