Friday, 18 October 2013

Behind closed doors...

Details of disciplinary action in the workplace must stay behind closed doors, a leading legal expert has warned.

John Mehtam leads our employment law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford and Wolverhampton, and he said employers must be extremely careful in order not to reveal any confidential information.

“It doesn’t matter how well you train your staff, things can and do go wrong, and when this happens, the directors must tread very gently. A complaint from an important customer is not good news for anyone, and if you don’t intervene, you could lose their business altogether.

“But equally, your staff are entitled to their privacy, even if you do take disciplinary action, and you should never reveal the outcome of any decisions you make.”

John said directors must never refer directly to what’s gone on behind closed doors, nor must they even drop hints to the client as to what action was taken.

“If you do slip up, and the employee finds out, they could resign and claim constructive dismissal for breach of trust and confidence, and report you to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

John said often though a client’s complaint came with a demand to know exactly what the company planned to do about the situation.“This of course puts you in a very difficult position, and the best course of action is to acknowledge their complaint, apologise if it’s appropriate and tell them you will investigate the matter fully.

“Once the process is complete, you can give them a generic reply to say the company has reviewed its procedures and ensured staff are properly trained to follow them, but stop short of mentioning any disciplinary action.

“You can’t tell them if the employee has been sacked either – even though they no longer work for your company, you still have to respect the rules.”

John said there was one exception to the confidentiality clause, and that was if the company needed the client’s help with the investigation, maybe requiring a witness statement from them. “In these circumstances, you’ll obviously have to put them in the picture, but you must stress that they need to keep everything under wraps, and you must never disclose the final outcome to them unless you have the employee’s permission.”