Many disciplinary rules properly specify breach of security or data handling rules as gross misconduct offences, which leave employees open to summary dismissal. But the reality is that these long documents are often breached in minor, if not major ways, and the smart employee knows that some ‘rules’ count and some do not. And there’s often a fascinating discrepancy between how breaches of such rules are interpreted in different sections of the same organisation. Some managers will only take action if faced with a blatant (and proven) breach, whereas others monitor proactively for compliance, and keep a managerial eye on smaller breaches and trends. These differences in approach cause problems for the whole business, and undermine the fairness of dismissals. But fundamentally they derive from over-complex rules.
Sometimes the rules get stuck in being over-specific. I once saw a rule – “do not steal from the petty cash box whilst wearing gloves”. I always wondered if it was OK to be a bare-handed thief in that organisation. Perhaps it was also OK to be a bare-faced liar. But I’ve also seen rules that are so wide ranging that no-one could comply. How about – “We require our staff to be totally honest at all times.” I would hate to ask anyone in that organisation what they thought about my latest haircut!
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : www.irenicon.co.uk. You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye and check our regular articles and news throughout the autumn on our blog site – https://irenicon.wordpress.com/