Siemens Employee Wrongfully and Unfairly Dismissed For ‘humping the table’
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A man who was accused of ‘humping’ a table in front of colleagues has won £15,000 at an employment tribunal after bringing a claim against his dismissal. The North Shields Employment Tribunal heard that Robert Cuthbertson worked for engineering giant Siemens from 16 February 1976 until his dismissal on 14 November 2016. His role involved training apprentices.
The tribunal was told that Siemens’ engineering factory in Newcastle was often home to conversations including strong, sexual language, and it was not uncommon to see photos of nude women. On 25 October 2016, a sex toy in a parcel without a named addressee arrived at Siemens’ reception. This stirred up some discussion, during the course of which Cuthbertson twice lowered his trousers to expose his underpants. He then proceeded to “hump a table”, in the words of a female colleague who witnessed the second incident.
Siemens decided this behaviour was suﬃcient to dismiss Cuthbertson without notice. The company’s disciplinary rules speciﬁcally prohibited using bad language or undertaking serious actions or behaviour, either inside or outside the workplace, which were likely to bring the organisation’s name into disrepute. These were listed as examples of gross misconduct warranting a dismissal. In particular, the company argued that there was a risk the apprentices Cuthbertson was in charge of could have seen his behaviour, and the dismissing oﬃcer told the tribunal judge that he believed Cuthbertson’s actions to be on a par with obvious examples of gross misconduct, such as physical violence, because it happened where youths may be present.
However, the tribunal accepted Cuthbertson’s evidence that none of the apprentices actually witnessed either incident. Cuthbertson was called to a disciplinary meeting by letter. He was away and did not learn of it until his wife collected the letter from the post oﬃce on 14 November, the same day the meeting was due to take place. During the subsequent investigation, disciplinary hearing and appeal, Cuthbertson apologised for his behaviour and vowed to not repeat it, calling it a “moment of madness”.
Finding Cuthbertson’s dismissal wrongful and unfair, Judge Garnon decided that the decision to dismiss was “wholly disproportionate” to the actions committed, particularly as conversations of a sexual nature had been treated as commonplace at Siemens in the past.
How did this happen?
This might have been considered a fair reason for dismissal in other businesses, but in a workplace where there is a culture for lewd and graphic behaviour, a tribunal may (as they did in this case) consider it “wholly disproportionate” to the actions committed, particularly if conversations of a sexual nature had been treated as commonplace at Siemens in the past.
In a work environment where the job is repetitive or the working conditions are particularly hard, it might feel right at the time to accept a boisterous culture in order to keep spirits up, although be aware that this could provide a context for more offensive behaviour.
This also serves as a warning to businesses where this style of behaviour is normal to some extent, talk to us about being clear with employees around what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. Please get in touch with us at [email protected] or call us on 01386 751 740.