All characters appearing in this article are unfortunately non-fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is regretful not purely coincidental.
It will not surprise you to know that in HR we are frequently faced with unique individuals and sometimes presented with exceptional situations. In this article we will give you a snapshot of some of the very funny, unfortunately sometimes harrowing but mainly intriguing cases we have encountered over the recent year or two.
The “forever late at work” with always a very good explanation
Some of the best justification for arriving late at the office have been “there was a wasp in the bathroom so I couldn’t get out”, “I walked in dog mess so I had to turn round and go back home to change my shoes”, and “I do not believe in alarm clocks but in being woken up by God only”. It is unfortunately very common for staff to turn up late but employees need to be reminded that they have entered into a contractual arrangement whereby they have agreed to be at work at a certain time each day. Employers are therefore justified to have informal discussions to clarify expectations and revert to their formal disciplinary procedure should further instances of lateness occur.
The workplace relationship that turns sour
It is not uncommon for some relationships at work to break down with disastrous consequences. A pair of managers shared explicit details about their extramarital relationship on the internal IT system as well as shared confidential company information. Another situation involved one employee being accused of stalking another in and outside of work. Unfortunately, in these circumstances the organisation has no alternative but to invoke the formal disciplinary procedure which, in some extreme cases of gross misconduct, can lead to summary dismissal. If relationships cause regular issues in the workplace employers have the option of setting a clear policy discouraging intimate relationships at work.
One employee that will not be forgotten in a hurry, unexpectedly chose to only converse with others in verses and by quoting extracts of Classic English literature during a formal disciplinary hearing. Although peculiar at first and very difficult to follow, the management team had no option but to continue the hearing as usual.
The banter that goes wrong
Banter is part of our daily life and is welcome light relief at work in most instances. However, it can become very problematic when it offends others whether deliberate or not. There have been cases of staff nick-naming a colleague “Sad Sack” and others intimating that a fellow worker had over familiar relationships with a farm yard animal! Needless to say that when offence is caused, regardless of the intent, the employer has a duty to investigate, which in turn is likely to lead to employees being taken through the formal disciplinary procedure.
The unreachable employee
On one particular occasion, a case involved an employee who did not return to work after a period of leave and claimed they were unfit to attend work. They said they were unable to produce a medical certificate as they were stranded abroad! The employee did not return calls and refused to speak on the telephone with anyone from the organisation. It is important to remember that employees have a duty to engage with their employer. In some circumstances it may be necessary for the employer to go to the employee’s home address to speak to their staff or hand deliver any correspondence. Failure from the employee to engage in a genuine process either in person or by representation will give no choice to the employer but to invoke their disciplinary procedure and reach a formal decision based on the information and evidence available to them at that particular time. Cases where employees refuse to engage are by far the most challenging and frustrating for employers.
The employees who argue over the office temperature
An issue we are often asked about concerns employees who cannot agree on the temperature of the office that they share. An extreme case has been when the employer has left the staff to resolve it amongst themselves and after many months of dispute resulted in one employee hanging a colleague out of the window so that they “could get some fresh air”. Employers should nip these small issues in the bud before they become so deeply rooted that the relationship completely breaks down and becomes a much more serious problem. As to the temperature, try and be accommodating wherever possible by moving desks and providing fans, etc. but ultimately if employees are a little cold or warm, they can put more layers on or remove them as appropriate.
The entirely inappropriate behaviour
As HR professionals we are rarely taken a back with what occurs in the workplace. There is of course the more sordid cases where there was pornography being surfed on the company internet. More harrowing is when it appeared to involve children, though ultimately, after an involved investigation, it thankfully transpired the individual was actually besotted with a single adult female that happened to be posing on very unsavoury websites doing household chores! We came across a business owner who thought it was entirely appropriate to ask their receptionist to wear a bikini at work and an employee who propositioned a client’s family member. So you see, what appears to be extraordinary for you is all in a day’s work for our HR Specialists. Next year, we hope your employees are your best asset and not your worst headache.
For assistance in dealing with unique individuals and exceptional situations please contact Anita Wynne at Beststart HR on firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 01438 747 747.