Reading excerpts from the case of Mobbs v Weetabix could put most people off their breakfast! Whether you keep munching or reach for toast, there are some important themes to note from the facts and the finding made by the tribunal in this case:
- bullying is still alive and well in the workplace
- thorough, impartial and timely investigations and grievance hearings are key to addressing these behaviours
The case was brought by Mr Mobbs who had worked at Weetabix for over 25 years. He raised a grievance following the behaviour of his manager, Mr Petre. He recounted swearing and humiliation playing a key role in Mr Petre's 'management style'. The grievance was not upheld despite witnesses corroborating Mr Mobbs' account. He resigned and an employment tribunal upheld his claim for unfair dismissal.
In our client training on Carrying out investigations and conducting grievance and disciplinary hearings, we identify the key components of a grievance and disciplinary investigation - Weetabix failed to abide by any of them.
- Ensure a timely and efficient response to any grievance raised
In this case, the grievance was lodged on 18 November 2019. It took further 34 days to interview the five witnesses named in the grievance. Although in some circumstances this may be acceptable, in this case such a delay did not impart the message 'your concern is important, and we are doing all we can to address it'. Rather, it suggested that it was not important and the behaviour the grievance raised was acceptable.
- During the process, be sure to follow any relevant policy when asking questions and drawing conclusions
The tribunal noted that despite several witnesses recalling Mr Petre's behaviour as 'humiliating', the bullying allegations were rejected, and the grievance was not upheld. The investigator focused on Mr Petre's intention in behaving like this. She should have focused on the fact that this behaviour was in breach of the Dignity at Work Policy regardless of the intention.
- Ensure anyone asked to investigate or run the grievance matter is objective and able to 'speak truth to power' when necessary
The employee who ran the investigation and grievance noted in their evidence that they would not shy away from disciplining a director. The tribunal, however, disputed that finding that conversations with the director were not robust enough and their summaries of meetings were not an accurate reflection of what was actually said.
- Write a comprehensive investigation report drawing on information gleaned during the process to make conclusions
The tribunal noted that the report's summary lacked accuracy and did not reflect either what was said during witness meetings nor what was contained in the organisation's policies and procedures.
- Ensure all meetings are minuted in whatever way is most efficient and appropriate at the time
We learn that the manager who ran the appeal process took no contemporaneous notes of the meeting but made his own notes. He commented that he felt "he got the thread of what people were saying". Meeting notes (whether verbatim or detailed notes) are crucial to all parts of this process.
Please do contact me if you would like more information about our suite of training on these issues for your HR teams and/or investigating managers. We can tailor our training to meet any specific needs your organisation may have. We will also be looking at this topic in our next podcast, so look out for that.
Objectively, the language used by Mr Petre was offensive (swearing) and unprofessional. I find that it was integral to his management style