In a recent case, an employee was dismissed for bringing her employer into disrepute.

The employee had sent out a text message to a customer on a work phone that complained of “incompetent” co-workers. The employer thought this was a serious issue, so decided to investigate.

The employee was asked about the text message, and admitted she did send it. She also said that she felt her colleagues were idiots, because of how they handled customer accounts.

At this point the employer invited her to a formal disciplinary meeting to discuss the text message. She was offered an opportunity to seek a support person for the meeting, and was given a clear invitation letter which outlined how the disciplinary process would run. The letter also said dismissal was a possible outcome of the process.

Because the employee thought the text message was not serious, she did not seek any advice and she did not bring a support person to the meeting. She apologised for the text, and explained that she considered the customer a friend and that her colleagues had made mistakes before. She said she was trying to maintain goodwill with a customer who had previously had complaints due to administrative errors.

The employer then organised another meeting and the employee was told, again, that she could seek legal advice and bring a support person.

The employer then considered the employee’s explanation, and was concerned because the employee had previously been warned over negative remarks and did not seem to think her comments were serious.

The employee brought a friend along to the next meeting, but did not seek expert advice.

At this meeting, the employer outlined its conclusions (that the comments did bring the employer into disrepute), and let the employee comment on the findings. At the end of the meeting, the employer let the employee know that it was proposing dismissal. The employer asked the employee to comment on that proposal.

At this point the employee said loudly, “There’s not much point, is there?!” The Human Resources manager told her she should let them know if she had any comment to make. “No,” she stated loudly, and then she stormed out.

Only after she was dismissed did she seek legal advice. She told her lawyers that she had a good work history, which should have been taken into account, and that the decision was unfair, and that she wanted to be re-instated. She suggested that perhaps she could have been re-deployed or demoted, or had a final warning.

If the employee had sought advice early on from an experienced professional, she would have been told to put these suggestions to the employer during the disciplinary process.

Storming out of the second meeting also did not help. In the end, dismissal was a decision a reasonable employer could have made, and a very proper process had been followed.