An employee commits a breach of office procedure that would ordinarily amount to an offence of gross misconduct and dismissal – when they are called to task about the breach by their employer, the employee says that they were told to perform the office procedure in the way they did by a former manager who has now left the business.
What does an employer do in such circumstances? The answer is that the employer should carry out a full investigation into the breach starting firstly by trying to get a witness statement from the former manager about what the employee has said. However, the former manager may not be contactable or they may be contactable but not willing to assist particularly if their departure from the business was not on good terms. If the approach to the former manager draws a blank, the employer should then ask other members of staff whether they were ever told by the former manager to breach the office procedure in the same way that the employee did.
Once the investigation has been concluded, the employer should weigh up all the evidence collated and then decide what to do. If it transpires from the investigation that the employee has lied or they have done something that was clearly wrong (irrespective of the comment about the former manager), dismissal may be justified so long as the evidence is there to support the decision. If however the situation is not clear cut, an employer should err on the side of caution and not dismiss – they could however give the employee a final written warning while making it clear to all staff the proper office procedure to follow. Even if the former manager backs the employee up, that still might not “right” the breach – the former manager’s instruction would be a factor that the employer would have to take into account in deciding what action to take against the employee.
In summary, an employee asserting that someone told them to “do something a certain way” will not get them off the hook in terms of disciplinary action. If you require any employment advice or representation, whether you are an employer or employee, feel free to contact Alan Davidson for a consultation: 01756 692 869.