My friend works as a night porter at a college, and is responsible for, among other things, fire safety. In recent years, the fire alarm control panel for a college owned property, located almost a mile away, has been added to his place of work; he is responsible for it. I believe no training, other than my friend working out the system, and explaining it to his colleagues, has been provided. He has worked in this place for 11 years, and has an excellent record, with no demerits recorded against him.
On the first night of his shift recently, at around 3.30 am, a fire alarm sounded, and he checked the monitor for its location, which recorded X. Unfortunately, X is a named location both on the premises where he works, and also the remote one; although there is a label on the outside of the monitor panel, it is a) faded, and b)the glass of the panel reflects the fluorescent light, and so the glass door must be opened in order to read the location of the alarm. He read the location "X" and checked it out on the premises, found no fire, and therefore followed the procedure which involves writing it up, and disabling the alarm at X (On the premises).
A few minutes later, the student who acts as the first responder on the remote site, called him, and the fire brigade, because there was a fire at "X" at the remote site. There was little damage, a microwave with a charred piece of bread. My friend admits he made a mistake, but he was not under the influences of drugs/alcohol, and can also prove that he was awake at the time.
He was suspended with full pay, and went to a disciplinary meeting, hosted by his employer, who promised (in writing) to "think overnight about if/what action would be taken", but, however, sent a letter within a few hours, telling my friend he faces a "gross misconduct" charge, and an immediate dismissal. I have a few queries: one, the employer (and PA) was the only other person present at the investigatory meeting (my friend was not allowed a companion); the employer will also be the only person (with his PA) present at the disciplinary meeting. The employer also tells my friend that he cannot discuss this with any client/employee of the institution, and if he has witnesses, or wishes a colleague to accompany him, that he may not approach them - the employer will do it for them.
Although my friend readily admitted to the mistake, his employer acknowledged his 11 years of exemplary service. My friend explained the mistake, but the employer (who is also Fire Safety Officer) dismissed his concerns; the employer sadly has a record of making poor decisions, and ignoring (written and verbal) advice given to him on subjects which he knows little about, e.g. internet security. My friend's immediate boss (a level below his direct employer) has been asked by my friend for written protocols, repeatedly, which have never materialised; I am sure that my friend has mentioned this to other friends of his, too,who could easily confirm this, but maybe not specifically with regard to Fire Safety.
My concerns are: a) should the employer be allowed to be judge, jury and executioner, when he does, at least, have many subordinates who could have chaired one of the meetings, when it is the employer who seeks dismissal of an individual? b) should the employer be allowed to approach (albeit in writing) the witnesses *for* the employee (these will nearly all be fellow employees, although a few will be students at my friend's college, over 18 only) *and* any colleague he wishes to accompany him, whilst my friend is not allowed to approach *any* employee of college; the employer has daily contact with my friend's colleagues, so potentially could influence them verbally, despite only being allowed to approach them in writing. c) as fire officer, should the employer not implement the recommendations of my friend, who made the mistake, and is well aware he will lose his job over it? If the employer does *not* implement these recommendations, can he also be censured for breaking Health and Safety Laws, as my friend is, because he has refused to alter his system by learning from the mistake which my friend described in detail. Is there any way that a spot check on the fire safety system (which is shaky at best, XXXXX XXXXX in my opinion, and several others') can be forced, especially if the employer refuses to implement my friend's suggestions which will prevent the same mistake being made? And if he ignores these suggestions, is he not guilty of refusing to minimise risk, which should be his priority? d) the reception day staff who cover the local and remote premises are not working alone, and have scheduled breaks. To my knowledge, night staff not only work 12 hour shifts alone, but also have no breaks. It is well documented that night work can result in underperformance short-term, and health problems long term. This will be the case for any night worker, and cannot be removed. Do night staff have any leeway here?
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: UK Employment Law