A joke? I listened in disbelief as Dave explained he'd been sacked for having his shoe laces undone. He'd worked at the factory for twelve years. Many hundreds of workers are employed at this site.
I took a good look at the case-papers. HR were calling this a "serious breach of health & safety" and "gross misconduct".
Dave was already under a final written warning for a "health & safety breach" earlier in the year. It was obvious that the earlier warning was ridiculous, but it hadn't been appealed.
The case-papers revealed that Dave walked through a corridor where the floor had recently been mopped. Other workers were doing the same. There was no sign saying not to use the area. And that was it....there is no more to this story. So how did this become "gross misconduct"?
In the witness statements (!) a manager wrote:
"I observed Dave with his shoe laces totally untied at precisely 2.43 pm. I felt this was a blatant and wanton disregard for safety within a hazardous environment. I felt that Dave was seriously endangering himself and others. I was shocked at this misconduct and immediately reported the incident to HR".
Three other written statement told a similar story. At best, it is highly dubious that each of the four witnesses all noticed the undone shoe laces...
The appeal meeting was very tense. HR were livid with what I said.
Despite aggression, I spoke softly:
"Sometimes a factory can be very, very insular. Sometimes something can happen in a factory that may seem perfectly reasonable, but to anyone outside looking in would look absolutely outrageous. This is one of those things.
You have sacked a family man because his shoe laces came undone. This is newsworthy. You could be looking at national media coverage. This is so laughable it has resulted in risk to the business."
I'd have loved to have forced a full reinstatement, but understandably Dave didn't want to go back.
A settlement agreement was the obvious solution, and Dave is happy with the compensation that's been negotiated for him.
Settlement agreements are tied up with confidentiality clauses. So although lots of outrageous things happen that Unions resolve, it's rare that details can be made public.
On the plus side, I am confident this employer will not dismiss again for this reason anytime soon!
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