Monday, 30 May 2016

The most dramatic dismissal appeal I've done....

Background:  A union recognition campaign had been successful, and membership was about 70% in a workplace with over 300 workers.  The MD was hostile and had been forced to recruit a professional HR officer.   Janet (not real name) had been a vocal supporter of getting the union in, but was not an activist / rep.  The reps were up in arms because Janet had been sacked.  It was all over the workplace and had caused massive worry and anger.  It was widely believed that the dismissal was retribution for Janet's vocal support for the union.

Before the appeal:  I was met by a Rep and taken to the room where Janet was waiting for me.   Normally this is just between the member and myself.  But there were 12 people in the room!  This room full of staunch union supporters wanted to show support and help Janet prepare her case with me.  I noticed Janet was uncomfortable and quietly asked her if I could ask the others to leave.  But no, she wanted them all the stay.  Shifting uncomfortably, when pressed she said there were no casepapers for me to read.   I hated feeling so ill-prepared, especially as this had become a "must win" case.  Janet shyly explained they had sacked her for being a union supporter,,,and that was that.  I was back patted into the hearing room by the others....

The hearing - part one: I didn't like the unpleasant smile of the HR officer.  The MD stared at the table and did not acknowledge me.  There was a copy of an 80 page dossier in front of us.  I flicked through quickly as the introductions were being done.  I felt sick.  Janet had been lying through her teeth.   Her dismissal was nothing to do with her support of the union.  In fact,the briefest glimpse of the casepapers showed that the dismissal was very justified.  But I had to win!   I called an adjournment.  The HR officers smile broadened and her delight became clear.  She had sussed me out - I'd walked in cold to the meeting - something I hate.  This was not good!

The Facts : Janet had been very, very naughty indeed! Near her desk was a state of the art colour photocopier.  Most days of the week, she would use it to take intimate photographs of various parts of her body. These would then be emailed to her boyfriend.  The messages were explicit, and there was no part of her body that was not pictured in colour within the casepapers.  The returning messages from Janet's boyfriend had also been included,  Let's just say that he had been extremely encouraged by what he had seen, and had said so...

This was all bad enough.   But Janet had gone further.  That MD...the same one I'd seen staring at the table a few minutes ago.....had a right to be angry.  Janet had sent several emails to her boyfriend that were not sexual in content. These ones were about the MD....what a "sleazebag" he was...how he made her skin crawl...what a **** job it was, how boring the work was etc

You name it....Janet had very colourfully complained about it!  I'd been sent out on a high stakes impossible mission....

The Adjournment :  I walked out of the room at pace and kept walking, even though I didn't know where I was. Red faced, full of apologies and tears, Janet struggled to keep up.  She wanted to leave the building and not come back. I twigged what had happened.....she was so embarrassed about the truth coming out....she had concocted a lie and in turn had been made into some sort of martyr.  And now the game was up.

I was not happy, and continued walking at a pace. Over and over I kept telling myself, "You've got to win....you've got to win."

Hang on, what's this?  A framed photo on the wall caused me to stop and ask a question.   The photo was of two identical twins, both wearing very, very little.

"What's this?"
"Oh they're the twins.  They work here."
"What! They work here?!"
"Oh yes, the MD likes to take pictures of them in their underwear..."
"I flippin bet he does...RIGHT!"

Adrenaline kicked in.  I pulled the frame from the wall and began a fast march back towards the hearing room.  I knew what I was going to do.   "Wait", said Janet, "he's also got a framed one on his desk"....

The hearing - part 2: I barged into the room and chucked the picture onto the table.   The HR officer looked worried.

As I started to speak, I dropped the dossier down onto the table.   The papers spread out perfectly - pornographic photos were now strewn across the table.  

"It's crystal  clear that there is a culture of sex and sexual exploitation in this workplace.".  I looked at the MD, who for the first time was now looking at me.
"This culture starts at the very top and goes all the way down through this organisation. You won't worry if I keep this one, I gather you've got your own in your office."

The MD stayed silent but looked at me with a burning hatred.

"This is all looking very, very juicy indeed.  My old mate at the Sunday Mirror would love all this....you could be looking at a full page, maybe even a page and a half spread in this weekends edition."

The HR officer was sunk, her head in her hands.

The MD was on his own, He took a pen out of his suit pocket,
"Mr Coyle....what is it that you want?"

"The lady would like her job back.  She is good at her job and knows she has been very foolish. She tells me she would never let you down again."

The MD called an adjournment of his own,  He returned without his HR colleague.

For the first time he looked at Janet. He never looked at me again.

"Start Monday, and don't let me down".

And with that, I got up and we left the room almost as quickly as we went in.

The aftermath:  Janet was *extremely* grateful, but also *extremely* embarrassed.  I spent over an hour with Janet after the meeting, as I needed to be very persuasive to get her to agree to come back to work.  I pointed out that management were *extremely* unlikely to allow the facts to get out.  She could remain the martyr if she wanted....I told her to reveal no detail of what had just happened...other than to say that the Union were brilliant but she didn't want to talk about it.

I followed this up with a call on the Sunday night to make sure she was going to go into work. She wasn't.  I virtually begged her to go in.

"I want you to walk into work with your head held high.  This will give the workforce confidence in the union and will lift everyone's spirits.  I don't care if you quit the job at lunchtime....but I need you to walk into work tomorrow morning."

She agreed.   Years later, she's still there.



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