EE lose employment tribunal amid claims of prank culture in call centres

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Operator found to have unfairly dismissed former operations manager at Darlington contact centre after accusations of bullying weren’t dealt with.

A former EE employee has won an employment tribunal against the operator after a judge ruled she was unfairly sacked following an incident where a worker was kicked in the head.

Fay Hand, who had served as an operations manager for 17 years with the firm, was sacked last September following an incident in which an employee was knocked unconscious at his desk after he hid a colleagues car keys.

The incident was one of a number of examples of bullying at the call centre revealed at the tribunal hearing held at Teesside Magistrates Court earlier this month.  The staff member who was kicked in the head, Grant Potter, was accused by his attacker of repeatedly bullying him prior to the incident.

It is alleged workers at the operators contact centre in Darlington, which employees over 2000 people, engaged in “occasional incidents of banter” to lighten up the “somewhat mundane and repetitive work”, the hearing was told.

These incidents included tampering with other employees computers, swapping screens and “crop dusting” – the act of breaking wind near a colleague.

The incidents escalated in September when an employee had his identity card defaced, his car keys stolen and a FIFA game removed from it.  The repeated incidents led the employee to lash out at Potter, who was left unconscious at his desk.

The employee, who has not been named, returned to work the following day with a three page statement detailing the incidents and complaining that he had reported the incident to EE management, including Hand, but they had failed to take his complaints seriously.

Seven employees were sacked relating to the incident, including Potter, his attacker, their team leader and Hand, who EE alleged had failed to take appropriate measures to deal with the bullying.

The firm accused Hand of failing to protect the employees, breaching EE’s policy on harassment and bullying.  Hand had asked the team leader to “sort it out” but EE said she had not done enough to find out if the issues were resolved.

Hand was in charge of 11 team leaders and 111 staff.  The employee who was being harassed later said he had experienced a “sense of humour failure” and the issue was believed to be resolved, until the kicking incident occurred.

Ruling in Hand’s favour, Judge Johnson said EE had failed to investigate what impact Hand’s alleged failure to investigate further had caused and, even if they had launched a full investigation , any failure found would not have been enough to warrant her dismissal.

The judge, who awarded Hand a five-figure sum in compensation, said: “The tribunal further found that the decision to dismiss the claimant was itself outside the range of reasonable responses, taking into account the claimant’s age, length of service and previous unblemished record.”

An EE statement said: ““We are one of the largest employers in Darlington. We take our responsibilities towards our staff very seriously and have robust policies in place that ensure a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment in the workplace. We accept the tribunal’s ruling.”

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