Our Final Work Dispute … Some of the Lowlights…

Paul Cardin <paul.cardin@xxxxxxxx.com>15 Nov 2008, 09:35
to Xxxxxxxxxxxx

Dear Xxxxxxxxxx,

Apologies for the delay in getting back to you.  I found it a bit awkward talking on the phone.  I thought it would be better to email you and outline what’s happened with me over the last 20 months.   Just to reassure you, my membership is up to date.  My most recent rep was Xxxxxxxxxxxx, who is a T&G senior lay companion and was called in by the Xxxxx office.  He should have copies of notes taken during hearings, etc. 

This situation has been allowed to decay and fester for a long time by management – and they have been up to their necks in practices which are underhand and probably unlawful.  Their most recent behaviour is a case of scraping the barrel.  All of this could have been avoided if they’d been responsible and grown up about it at the start.

I appreciate what you said on the phone about my limitations, having accepted their decision.  Much of what’s gone on could now be academic, but please bear with me.  True to form, the Manager, Xxxxxxxx, who made the decision has recently gone back on his word and is attempting to pull a fast one, as of last month.  To me, this could amount to a fresh grievance.  Also, I was given a stress risk assessment at the end of August 2007 which has never been acted upon, despite a number of issues being highlighted and action promised.  This could also amount to a grievance.

My difficulties started not long after I joined the Council’s Street Lighting unit as an Assistant Engineer in September 2004.  The problems began to take shape towards the end of 2006 / start of 2007.  The issues were straightforward, but management’s response initially was to pretend that nothing was wrong, saying that I was on a vendetta against another engineer, Xxxxxxxx.  I maintained throughout that the problems weren’t personal, but procedural.  Management have responded all along by failing to properly acknowledge the issues, closing ranks, deliberately muddying the water or dragging their feet.

I brought up the following issues at a meeting in March 2007 with the manager, Xxxxxxxxxx:

·         Ongoing favouritism and protectionism by a manager, Xxxxxxxxx towards Xxxxxxxx which caused unfairness in workloads and work variety – this resulted in inequality of opportunity (Xxxxxxxx left the council in xxxxx xxxx)

·         Poor communication generally in the unit and an unwillingness to respond to legitimate concerns

·         The details of a timekeeping incident where Xxxxxxxx fiddled their time on xxxxxxx xxxx

My reporting of the timekeeping incident became known through a breach of confidentiality.  This created an awful atmosphere in the office and gave rise to foul behaviour by Xxxxxxxx and incidents of bullying and harassment by manager Xxxxxxxxxx against me.  These ended in June 2007, when I went off with work-related stress.  It was in this context that I lodged my first grievance in July 2007, during the 3 month absence.  This was directed specifically against Xxxxxxxxxx (who later left the council in xxxxxx xxxx), and listed four instances of bullying and harassment carried out in his office.  An informal Dignity at Work process was agreed upon, which was led by Manager Xxxxxxxxxxxx and commenced in August 2007.  This process ended in February 2008, during which there were 5 or 6 meetings held to discuss ALL the above issues, not just the bullying and harassment incidents.  Despite requests from me and my representative, formal minutes were not taken during these meetings. Xxxxxxxxxxxx conducted them and took his own notes.  The informal process found that Xxxxxxxxxx had breached the Dignity at Work Policy, but was not guilty of bullying and harassment.  A team-building process was agreed and put in place, but this was torpedoed early on by the appalling behaviour of Xxxxxxxxx at the first team meeting.

Both during this process, and as a result:

·       No-one had been held accountable

·       Xxxxxxxxxxxx produced meeting notes which deliberately omitted important points or changed the events to suit the employer’s position

·       My right to have a meeting convened with all members of the unit was made conditional upon dropping the grievance completely and not going formal.  This was a flouting of the Council’s internal procedures

Shortly after Xxxxxxxx’s departure, my character was assassinated to my face by Xxxxxxxxx.  Shortly after this, I asked to be moved out of the section and away from the offending individual, which was granted without prejudice.  I’d already taken the complaint to the formal stage and an external investigator was brought in – a retired senior manager at the council.  The Investigating Officer tape recorded around 14 interviews with the people concerned.  I have audio copies of all the ones I was involved in.  I was supported by three witnesses (to some of the events), including one manager, who all volunteered to be interviewed as part of the investigation.  At my first interview, the Investigating Officer said I needed to broaden my original Dignity at Work complaint to include all the wider issues and to specify Xxxxxxxxx and Xxxxxxxx. I put this in writing and gave it, along with supporting evidence to the employer.  The revised grievance was in letter form and lodged with them on 7th May 2008.

The investigation concluded in July 2008 and the final 130 page report found a total of 7 management failings, 4 missed opportunities, and that favouritism and protectionism had occurred between Xxxxxxxxx and Xxxxxxxx to the detriment of myself and a technician colleague, Xxxxxxxxxxx.  It found no evidence of bullying and harassment – caused by a stalemate, with one person’s word against the other.  In its defence of management the report made personal attacks on my character, questioned my personality and the way I deal with others, introduced ‘workplace dynamics’ as a pertinent factor, and at both hearings, the Investigating Officer described me as a ‘square peg going into a round hole’. 

The Investigating Officer’s report was presented to Manager Xxxxxxxx at a hearing on 15th July 2008.  I was accompanied by Xxxxxxxxxxxx.  Both sides made their submissions, but the hearing was adjourned following my request for further information.  I brought up the fact that Xxxxxxxxxxxx had interviewed colleagues regarding the wider issues of favouritism and protectionism and had later denied this.  I was concerned that the information gathered as a result had been deliberately withheld by Xxxxxxxxxxxx and not handed to the Investigating Officer during the handover from the informal to the formal process.  My concern was that I’d been requesting this information from Xxxxxxxxxxxx without success since January and that Xxxxxxxx could not make a proper, fully informed decision without seeing it.  In defence of my character, I stated that I’d always fought for my work colleagues when they were under attack, never more so than in 1982, when I was involved in rescuing stricken crew members in the Falklands conflict.

When I received the withheld information the following week (5 separate signed interviews with Street Lighting colleagues) most of the content had been ‘blacked out’ in one of the interviews – that of my colleague, Xxxxxxxxxxx – whom I believe has always told the truth.  I felt I needed to know what had been blacked out and approached the Council’s Data Compliance Officer, Xxxxxxxxxxx.  She reassured me that the council could not bring charges on the basis of information passed orally between staff.  This I took as clearance to approach Xxxxxxxxxxx and to ask him what he said in the interview.  I discovered that management had obliterated information which was all in my favour, and related to the wider issues of favouritism, workload, timekeeping and inequality of opportunity.  It was now proven beyond doubt that Xxxxxxxxxxxx had interfered with the correct conduct of the process, had told lies about the true scope of his enquiries, whilst resisting my ongoing requests for the information, and had withheld crucial information by forwarding incomplete summaries to the formal enquiry.  I presented all of this to the reconvened hearing on 29th July 2008.

Xxxxxxxx advised that he would deliver his decision before he went on leave on 18th August 2008.  The decision arrived before the deadline and found that there had been unacceptable behaviour by an unspecified member or members of management.  It found that Xxxxxxxxxx had technically breached the Dignity at Work Policy by use of immoderate language, but the breach was not serious enough to warrant disciplinary action.  It found that there were shortcomings in the management of the Street Lighting unit, but this arose through lack of management awareness.  The behaviour in all the circumstances was not serious enough to warrant disciplinary action.  A management briefing was planned to address possible shortcomings in the future.  The decision also suggested the following as part of an action plan:

·         Formal, facilitated mediation process between me and Xxxxxxxxx

·         Stress risk assessment

·         Periodic monitoring of progress, work related issues, etc.

·         Career development appraisal

Again, there was a vagueness about who had done what and a lack of accountability.  I felt disappointed by the decision and was planning to appeal, but in the end weighed up the stress on myself and my family and decided not to.  I sent a letter of acceptance which also stated some reservations.  Three weeks later, I’d heard nothing, so I sent a reminder.  Manager Xxxxxxxx responded with a request for a sharing of information.  He asked for my agreement to handing Xxxxxxxxx copies of the 130 page report from the external investigation and all three submissions I’d made to both hearings.  I was reluctant to agree and responded by asking whether Xxxxxxxxx had accepted Manager Xxxxxxxx’s finding of ‘unacceptable behaviour’ and the further proposals.  He responded saying that Xxxxxxxxx was unhappy with his decision.  I responded by asking if Xxxxxxxxx had appealed against the decision.  He responded saying ‘the question of an appeal against my decision by Xxxxxxxxx does not arise in this situation, as he was not the person against whom the initial complaint was made.’

In other words, we’d just had a two month formal investigation, with Xxxxxxxxx identified and investigated as a central figure, found guilty of multiple management failings, and the Manager was now telling me that Xxxxxxxxx was outside all of this because he wasn’t the person being complained about.  This is the ‘scraping of the barrel’ I mentioned.  He has gone back on his word, and I believe management are squirming and desperately trying to escape from any accountability whatsoever.

Whilst this was unfolding, my replacement line manager, Xxxxxxx, praised my technical ability, then attempted to pass down high level technical work which landed on his desk when Xxxxxxxxxx left. Xxxxxxxxxx was on Grade 13. Xxxxxxx is on Grade 11 and stated that he wasn’t paid to do this sort of work, however he seemed to think I was, on Grade 8!  I didn’t refuse to do it, but expressed reservations relating to my job description.  He then stated ‘surprise’ and demanded that I cease the task forthwith.  Since then, at a Staff Appraisal on 3rd October he started attacking my performance – which has never been under question throughout all of this.  It all began to get too much and  I felt that I could no longer trust these people whatsoever.  The present situation is I’m off with work-related stress once again and have been since early October 2008.  I referred myself to the Occupational Health Unit, but management superseded this with their own referral.  Management have been warned repeatedly in writing by the OHU doctor that there was a risk of further ill health if my issues were not addressed or resolved.

I’ve had meetings with the OHU doctor recently and we both agree that I need to get back into work as soon as possible.  Given the nature of the management failings (ongoing), I’m concerned that I’ll be putting myself in the firing line once again just by being there, so there will need to be meetings held with managers to allay these concerns.  The last time this happened, they handed me the ‘Workforce Performance Management Procedure’ for advice.  There are two strands to this, as you probably know – one relates to an inability to do your job through repetitive ill health and the other an inability to effectively discharge your duties.  I don’t know for sure where they’ll be coming from, but they may try to build a case on either.

Another important aspect to this is I don’t know who knows what about my situation or whether Manager Xxxxxxxx has held the promised management briefing to address the management shortcomings.  My replacement line manager Xxxxxxx could well be ignorant of the fact that my previous line manager, Xxxxxxxxx, has been found guilty (I think) of favouritism and protectionism.  This in itself, along with their statutory failure to look out for my health, would be a valid reason for any perceived dip in performance.

I’ve tried to keep it all brief and the description above is a summary of the main issues.  I’ve attached a document which gives a rundown of everything that’s happened since the start.  All the documents to support my position are held as links, but I haven’t attached these as I don’t want to load you down with absolutely everything.  I have copies of everything and have made two subject access requests for my personal data (June ’08 and October ’08) in an attempt to get any more information concerning me.

I’d like to have a face-to-face meeting with you soon if possible, in order to discuss these issues.  I know you’ll be busy, but I feel it’s very important.  I live in Wallasey on the Wirral, but could travel to a location of your choice.  These are my contact details:

Home phone: Xxxxxxxxxxx

Mobile: Xxxxxxxxxxx

Many thanks for your time,

Paul