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I have been suspended pending further investigation

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  • I have been suspended pending further investigation

    Hi all,

    I am new here and after as much advice as possible.

    Today, at 9am I was informed by our Chief Exec that he wanted to see me at 10am in his office, to pack my belongings and that he would be taking me off-site. It took me by surprise but I knew I was being suspended because they handled an ex-colleague in the same way last year.

    So, they have suspended me due to an allegation made relating to me undertaking work that does not relate to my job while I am in the office. Basically, I work in IT and that was their reason for suspending me, because I have access to systems and the ability to potentially try and hide any potential evidence. Anyhow, alongside my day job, I am a freelance writer and proofreader. I do it at home in the evenings and I do it on the weekends.

    So, to be truthful, I send all documentation relating to my freelancer work to my work network storage to keep it safe. It requires me to download it from the platform that I send it to but it is a simple, download and save. Sometimes, I do a bit of proofreading on my lunch break but I simply do not have the time of day to undertake large amounts of work in place of my usual work. At this moment in time, I am completely stumped as to where I am supposed to turn. Maybe what I have done in terms of downloading and storing is classed as undertaking non-related work in work time - I just don't know.

    Anyway, the next stage is to have an investigation meeting with two colleagues. Should I be provided any further evidence beforehand so I can prepare a case and explanation prior to the meeting? Is there anything I should ask for prior to this meeting?

    What really annoys me is that there is one colleague who has been knowingly selling catalogue goods during work time for years but they have done nothing with her.

    I am feeling really bad about all of this at the moment but would really appreciate further guidance where possible.

    Thanks in advance.







    Tags: None

  • #2

    You'll have to wait and see what they actually ask you at the investigation meeting, they are not required to provide you with information in advance, but to prepare...
    I think that it's best for you to try to make this a 'working time' issue.

    The working Time Regulations 1998 (R12) require that employees working more than 6 hours a day are entitled to a minimum 20 minute uninterrupted rest break. Of course employers are free to give longer breaks if they wish to. While the employer must allow you the opportunity to take the rest break they are not required to ensure that you actually do so, or police it to ensure that you are actually resting. Lots of employees choose to work through their breaks and that's fine as long as it's their choice.

    While on the rest break you are not required to do any work for your employer. So, it's not 'working time'.
    The fact that you are "undertaking work that does not relate to my job while I am in the office" by doing proofreading during your lunch break is only relevant if there's a workplace policy or other agreement that lays out what employees can, or cannot, do during their rest breaks. Otherwise you should be able to do as you please. As they don't object to the catalogue lady doing her thing while she is in the office during 'working time' why have you been suspended and investigated for proofreading during a break?
    I'd ask if their intention is institute new policies outlining what employees are permitted to do during their breaks. If Yes, why are they taking this action against you in advance of bringing in the new policies.


    If the '"download and save" thingy is just a matter of doing a couple of clicks and you do this during 'working time' then Yes they've got you there but it probably takes maybe a few seconds and given that they have no issue with another colleague doing catalogue sales during working time you don't understand why, in your case, it's a potential disciplinary matter.

    Check your employers policies on using their network storage because, unless you already had permission, if they change tack to using their network storage for your other job they may have a stronger case.

    The only other thing I can think of based on the information so far is an existing workplace policy or contractual clause related to having another job.
    Is there one? If so, did you notify them and/or get permission?

    Comment


    • #3

      Hi,

      Thanks very much for your reply. What I am unsure of is how they have quantified the time I allegedly spend carrying out these tasks?

      As an example, I might download the document in the morning, save it and leave it open because I do leave them open. Depending on the kind of work I had been working on during the previous evening, I might receive a new document from a client. So, I might then download the new document, merge it with the original document and then save it again. To my employer, this might look like I have had a document open for an hour and when they look into the size of the document I downloaded first thing, that will be smaller than when I saved it after the merge. This is a task that takes nothing more than 15 seconds. My reason for leaving it open really is a bit of a prompt to carry out the proofreading during my lunch break.

      What I am concerned about is that they might have their evidence that says " we have it that you worked for three hours on Tuesday and four hours on Wednesday". This is something that I believe is quite likely, as I am unsure what else they could have on me???

      In terms of there being a workplace policy or contractual clause, I am not aware of anything at all. However, after the chief executive had escorted me off the premises, we had a little chat in the car park. I was basically trying to explain what they might have found and that it can be explained and his response was "we don't own you 24 hours a day".

      So, effectively, yes I have to admit that the download and save is done in work time but the time is very, very minimal. The electronic record might suggest that I am working for hours on end but that is not true - otherwise where would I find time to get my actual job done?!

      What really concerns me is that the lady who was selling the catalogue goods was doing so for years and she is still doing it. She brings the books in, leaves them on colleagues desks, takes their orders and then brings the goods in when they arrive. To add to this, she was on the sick for over 6 months and even during this time, her mother would bring the orders in for colleagues.

      Do you think I should ask any questions surrounding this as it makes me feel as though I am being treated very differently.

      Thanks




      Comment


      • #4
        I have a further update on this. I have been invited to a meeting on Monday and they have sent over a screenshot of their evidence at this moment in time. It is a long list of a lot of documents stored on my personal drive within the work network. Of course, there are "modified" times alongside each document but it does not prove that I have been working on them. So at this moment in time, there might be a document from last Wednesday that was last modified at 15:23 when I was in the office but it does not mean that I have been actively working on it, it could be a case of me transferring it from a pen drive and saving it to my drive if that makes sense.

        At this moment in time, based on the screenshots they have, it seems as though it could be my word against theirs? Do I have that right?


        Does this help in anyway?

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi - I was awake thinking about this during the early hours of this morning and I thought of something.

          So someone has made an allegation against me and the allegation was probably something along the lines of " he is doing other work in work time". My guess is that the individual who made this allegation did so with no prior evidence or proof other than they might have heard something about what I do in my spare time, away from the office.

          In the letter I have had from HR, they have stated that " in our attempt to verify the truth of the allegation we had seen some information to prompt us to begin an investigation process".

          I don't know why, but something here does not sit right with me...the wording perhaps? It could be the word "truth", I am just not sure.

          Secondly, if an allegation has been made, do I have a right to ask them what the allegation consisted of? Ok, the indovidual might have told management what they think I have been doing but do they have any further information?

          It just seems strange to me how this allegation has turned into a suspension following them looking into my personal drive to validate the allegation.

          Please, can anyone help or am I going stir crazy?

          Thanks!

          Comment


          • #6
            At this moment in time, based on the screenshots they have, it seems as though it could be my word against theirs? Do I have that right?

            Yes, inasmuch as they have evidence that you did something at those points in time that calls for an explanation from you.

            I don't know what your job entails but I would guess that you spend most of your working time on a computer. Their screenshots would only show what you were doing at that particular second.
            If you had access would you be able to show that you were undertaking your employer's work before and after the screenshots?

            The allegation and its source is a red herring.
            It would only be partly relevant if you already had an ongoing dispute with your employer and they'd gone searching for dirt on you for that reason.

            Comment


            • #7
              It is interesting that you mention an ongoing dispute really because even though this is not an ongoing dispute, it is interesting how they have singled me out again.

              Two years ago, we moved office and we were offered the furniture free of charge. I took some and at a later date decided I no longer wanted it and so, I decided to sell it. Someone in work reported me to the Chief Exec and I was investigated. At this point, I got advice, spoke to specialists and found out that the furniture was a gift with no restrictions and that I was free to do what I wanted with it so I had done nothing wrong. Despite that, they took me to a disciplinary hearing where they let me walk away with no warning or anything like that. The whole process went on for six weeks. It was hell.

              This makes me feel to some extent as though someone has it in for me and is singling me out.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by mariefab View Post
                At this moment in time, based on the screenshots they have, it seems as though it could be my word against theirs? Do I have that right?

                Yes, inasmuch as they have evidence that you did something at those points in time that calls for an explanation from you.

                I don't know what your job entails but I would guess that you spend most of your working time on a computer. Their screenshots would only show what you were doing at that particular second.
                If you had access would you be able to show that you were undertaking your employer's work before and after the screenshots?

                The allegation and its source is a red herring.
                It would only be partly relevant if you already had an ongoing dispute with your employer and they'd gone searching for dirt on you for that reason.
                My job entails quite a lot actually but some of it can not be quantified. I could be away from my desk for over an hour helping someone with a problem they have with their equipment. I could perhaps look to see if emails were sent around those times but at this moment in time, I do not have access to anything as they have removed everything.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by cdb1984 View Post
                  It is interesting that you mention an ongoing dispute really because even though this is not an ongoing dispute, it is interesting how they have singled me out again.

                  Two years ago, we moved office and we were offered the furniture free of charge. I took some and at a later date decided I no longer wanted it and so, I decided to sell it. Someone in work reported me to the Chief Exec and I was investigated. At this point, I got advice, spoke to specialists and found out that the furniture was a gift with no restrictions and that I was free to do what I wanted with it so I had done nothing wrong. Despite that, they took me to a disciplinary hearing where they let me walk away with no warning or anything like that. The whole process went on for six weeks. It was hell.

                  This makes me feel to some extent as though someone has it in for me and is singling me out.
                  I remember someone having the same issue on the, now defunct, law forum. Was that you?

                  If I understand correctly; on the way back from sorting out a computer issue you could have remembered that you wanted to transfer and save something from a pen drive. So, you popped it in while you made a phone call/sent an email/composed a report about the issue you'd just resolved.
                  If that's somewhere near the case, tell them that.
                  Although you don't currently have access they do. So, ask if they've checked what else you were doing on your computer, or elsewhere, around the time of the screenshots. If not, why not. Surely a fair evidence search shouldn't be one-sided.

                  You been there for 2 more years since the furniture issue. That should indicate that they are satisfied with your work output.
                  So, what is there issue with you doing a little amount of outside stuff.
                  Do you have a backlog of work piled up?
                  Are people complaining that they need to wait for your attention?
                  Do they have more tasks that they would have liked to ask you to undertake but they haven't because you seemed too busy?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hi, no that was not me back then. I have just been going through the timings of the saved documents. There are many that were created and modified at the same time, proving that they were downloaded/transferred and then saved instantly. There are others that might have remained open for some time and that could be times where I transferred them but did not save them if that makes sense.

                    In terms of my work, then yes I have recently had meetings and agreed my tasks for the coming year. There have been no suggestions from my manager that my work has been suffering. I do not have a backlog of work piled up but due to the nature of my job, things can get pushed aside. An example of this could be that I am working on creating a new section of a website but then someone will come to me and tell me their PC is playing up. I then have to drop these things and go and sort out the Pc to get them back up and running. Then something else will crop up....it is a little like that really.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I still cannot get my head around the allegation and the fact that management went and did some digging around in my drive? I know they have the right to do this but I am surprised that they would do it to support an allegation. It would be like me going to them and saying " I think so and so might have something they shouldn't have stored on their PC but I don't have any proof"

                      I am of course, not clued up on what is right and wrong, but I would have thought the alleger would have had to provide some kind of proof?

                      Is there anything behind my thinking? I might have asked this already but it keeps going around and around in my head.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I have yet another update to this:
                        Since I was suspended, I have had conversations with colleagues via their own personal devices. These conversations are more along the lines of them checking out that I was ok and talking about the shock about me being suspended. At no point during the suspension meeting or in any documents I have been sent since have I been told not to speak to colleagues

                        This evening, I have been sent a letter by email to say that it has been brought to their attention that I have contacted several members of staff outside of HR and those involved in the investigation. They have gone on to say that the purpose of the suspension is to ensure that the investigation can take place without any influence on colleagues and that I refrain from contacting colleagues. These are colleagues who contacted me to check on my wellbeing and to explain that they disagree with the way it has been handled. I have replied and had general conversations but nothing that relates to the investigation as none of them are involved in any way.

                        Can they really do this to me and stop me from speaking to people that I class as work friends??

                        I am really struggling at the moment with all of this. I am a positive person in general and I have a very strange feeling inside me that I cannot describe. It is not worry, it just feels like an emptiness and it is mentally draining me.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          It's fairly common for employees suspended pending an investigation to be asked not to contact other employees. It's because usually it's best to limit the number of those who know about and /or are involved in the investigation to a minimum. So, the short answer is, Yes they can do this.

                          However, they have misrepresented what happened.
                          So, you may want to send another email clarifying that you didn't contact any members of staff, they contacted you to ask about your well being.
                          You could also ask what they would like you to say to a member of staff who contacts you while this process continues.

                          Someone at your workplace has brought this contact to the attention of HR. So, it may be in your interest to have no further contact because it could be the same person who made the original 'allegation'.
                          As to the allegation; I know that you must feel like you're about to explode with stress at the moment but what the allegation consisted of is irrelevant. Whatever it was led to management digging around in your drive. As you say they are entitled to do this at any time. They found some things for which they want an explanation. It's the range of potential explanations that you need to focus on right now.

                          I suggest that you create a document to take to the meeting on Monday.
                          Start with bullet points, flesh them out, decide the order etc. include everything that you want to say about the screenshots etc.
                          Add a couple of questions like:
                          Have they investigated what else you were doing before, after or between the screenshots?
                          If not, why not?
                          Also if not, will they allow you access so that you can investigate this? (After all no-one can be expected to remember what else they were doing during a particular few seconds.) Or are they now able to investigate this themselves.

                          It may reduce your natural anxiety at the meeting if you have all the points you want to cover in front of you and you can leave them a copy at the end of the meeting in case something gets missed.


                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Thanks for your advice once again.

                            I understand the no contact ruling and I would never ever contact anyone to jeopardise or try and change the course of the investigation. Colleagues have just been genuinely worried about me.

                            So, I have some things to take with me to the meeting on Monday and as I have been given the evidence from them, I know what I need to say to explain it. While I know that this is just an investigation meeting, I am fully preparing myself for it to be taken to a disciplinary hearing, at which point I am pretty convinced that I am going to lose my job.

                            Anyhow, I do have several points ready to take with me based around the reasons for gross misconduct such as abusing trust, abusing company property etc etc.
                            • Several years ago, one of my colleagues whom I am friendly with and is part of the investigation team broke down on the motorway on a weekend. He did not have any roadside cover or any means of getting his vehicle off the motorway but he did have the company purchasing card. He used this purchasing card to sort out recovery and get himself home. On the Monday, he owned up to what he did and they then took him through a full investigation and disciplinary before giving him a written warning. In my mind, his actions were severe and probably should have led to him being dismissed but he wasn't so I want to mention this at the hearing and ensure that my case is dealt with in line with past disciplinary offences.
                            • Last year another colleague who was sat next to me at an away day apparently pulled out a six inch flick knife. A number of colleagues saw this and reported it to the chief executive and director around lunch time, however they did not deal with it. For the next two days, they allowed him back into the office before eventually suspending him. It took them two months to eventually dismiss him following meetings with solicitors and such. He ended up agreeing some kind of package which involved a lump sum to leave the company.
                            It is these kinds of decisions that really make me feel anxious and like I have no idea what is going to happen to me. If I am guilty of downloading and storing personal documents on the network does that make it more fo a sackable offence that that of the colleague who used the purchasing card without authorisation?

                            Even though I have my union involved at this point, if it does get taken to a disciplinary hearing I think I am going to have to seek professional legal representation.






                            Comment


                            • #15
                              The investigatory meeting is not the stage to raise how other employees were dealt with in earlier disciplinaries.
                              The appropriate time to raise these issues is toward the end of a disciplinary hearing as part of your mitigation.

                              (Although they don't have anything in common with your situation; they show that this particular employer does not consider misuse of Company funds a sufficient reason to warrant dismissal and that, based on a past case, with this particular employer you have to do something very serious indeed like pull out a 6 inch knife in the workplace in order for the employer to dismiss you.)

                              The reason is that this sort of information is not relevant to whether, or not, a disciplinary hearing should take place. However, it is relevant after a disciplinary especially when dismissal is considered.
                              For a conduct dismissal to be 'fair' an employer needs to show that:
                              the reason, or the main reason, for the dismissal relates to the employee's conduct,
                              and that when, taking all the circumstances into account, it was reasonable for this particular employer (i.e. not hypothetical employers in general) to justify treating the reason as sufficient to merit dismissal.

                              So, you have this employer who hands out a written warning for misuse of Company funds (which is likely to be described as gross misconduct on any list of potential disciplinary offences) and for years has taken no action at all against an employee who, with their knowledge, spends working time carrying out an outside job delivering and collecting catalogues (and also delivering the goods and collecting payment???).
                              It will be difficult for this employer to justify dismissing you for an arguably equal or less serious charge than misuse of Company funds and when they've taken no action against another employee who has been doing a similar kind of thing while taking up comparatively more working time.

                              Mitigation that you should raise at the investigation (if you get the opportunity) and at a disciplinary hearing (if one occurs) will also include:
                              your length of good service,
                              that you were unaware that your employer would object to you doing outside work during your breaks,
                              that because at least one other employee does outside work during working time you didn't anticipate that your employer would object to you doing so too for comparatively short periods of time,
                              that the very limited time spent on outside work did not affect your work output,
                              your agreement (if required by the Company) that you will not undertake any outside work at the office in future
                              and anything else you can think of.
                              Add this to the end of paperwork that you take to the investigation.

                              Comment

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