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Colborn’s Corner – Disciplinary dilemmas divulged

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Quentin Colborn


Confidentiality prevents many practitioners from divulging the finer points of disciplinary experiences but many interesting learning points can be drawn on reflection; in this article I look at two eye-opening encounters one of which involved an employee with an embarrassing body odour problem.


Something in the air?
The first instance involved an employee who had a body odour problem.

Understandably his colleagues found this difficult to deal with and eventually the matter was passed up to the Head of Sales to resolve. Considering this incident took place a few years ago, I think the employers’ response was very enlightened.

Firstly the employee was sent to the occupational health team where both a nurse and then a doctor explained the problems the employee’s colleagues faced. No success was had, so an informal warning was called for.

This also failed to produce a result so an informal warning from a Trade Union local official (vested interest here, they represented the employee and also the colleagues who objected to the problem) was made.

No progress was made once again, but to use a current court phrase ‘social reports were called for’ and it was discovered that this employee, aged in his mid 50’s, had recently lost his mother who did everything for him – in effect treating him as a young child.

Unfortunately there was no improvement and so the matter proceeded with a heavy heart to a formal disciplinary warning – success! Somehow this worked and the guy started to look after himself properly. However those of us who had been involved with the case still felt uncomfortable about it all, somehow a disciplinary hearing didn’t seem the right way to tackle the problem.

What would you have done in this situation? Has anyone faced anything similar?

Interference on the line?

The second situation relates to an interesting mix of data protection and management competence. The business handled calls from the public that were recorded so that the transaction details could be referred to in the future.

Only supervisors and managers had access to these recorded calls that they sometimes listened to for training and quality purposes. The business had concerns about a particular supervisor’s capability to manage effectively and as part of her review process the business investigated how much she listened in to her teams calls.

During this investigation it became apparent that she had been listening in to her managers private calls (to her midwife), this was not simply stumbling on a call by accident, but listening in for the duration.

On the face of things – it appeared a clear case of gross misconduct – albeit after a proper investigation.

This should have gone smoothly but the manager involved was understandably very annoyed and happened to mention to one of the supervisor’s subordinates that the supervisor was in trouble and would be dismissed by the Head of Department!

Unfortunately this message got back to the supervisor who felt that any disciplinary hearing was bound to be biased with a foregone conclusion.

What was the right solution? Clearly working relationships had broken down (with no possibility of transferring either employee elsewhere), the supervisor was a performance problem and the manager was well regarded but both had committed disciplinary offences. The pragmatic answer was that the supervisor had to go – but how? Eventually it became the responsibility of a member of the HR team to broker a compromise agreement – and the manager got a firm talking to.

One thing this incident flagged up was that the organisation had no process for reviewing who had accessed recorded calls, it was only by chance that this incident had stumbled upon the actions of the supervisor.

I’d like to hear about what happens in your organisation? Are there any checks to review which calls a supervisor/manager has accessed – and how long they have listened to them? Technology gives us many tools, but do our polices and practices always keep up with them?

Share your views with Quentin on these cases and tell us your own experiences by posting a comment below – remember you can remain anonymous!

Colborn’s Corner: series articles

One Response

  1. Re Body Odour problem
    We find that this is something that arises from time to time. Our store managers usually suggest that the person concerned makes use of the deodorant spray in the fitting rooms along the lines of “you have a little problem at the moment which will be unpleasant for customers”. Very blunt and to the point; it usually works! Have also used following a previously unsuccessful disciplinary process, in the “letter”: regular washing of clothes and the daily use of soap and water followed by the application of a deodorant will go a long way to ensure that this problem does not arise again.

    It’s amazing how many people find it very difficult to tackle this problem with a colleague.

    Nicky Hillier

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