Disgruntled employees beware!



Quick quiz

If you’re unhappy at work because you don’t receive a pay rise do you;

            (a) Have a quiet word with your boss

            (b) File a grievance

            (c) Sue them

            (d) Resign

            (e) Spend three years spraying Cilit Bang into your employer’s servers causing £32,000  worth of damage and repeated computer failures?

If (e) seems like the ideal option, let me caution you against it. The Daily Telegraph reported on how one Edward Sobolewski who worked at an Oxford market research firm, poured the cleaning fluid into the computers, or sprayed it through the grills, over a three year period and was eventually caught when the company installed CCTV.

Sobolewski’s actions were, of course, criminal damage and he was sent to prison for eight months as well as being ordered to pay £10,000 compensation to his (presumably although we are not told) former employers.

HR Magazine published a report from research by law firm Gateley on the Most Common Workplace Disputes Revealed.  It reveals the issues upon which clients seek most often advice from the firm. In comparison to clandestine campaigns of criminal damage, it’s a pretty tame list: office romances, unauthorised absences, holiday and sick pay.  All potentially very tricky to resolve of course.

 I was expecting to read about disputes over whether the office was too hot or too cold, why can’t we have the window up/down  (amend as appropriate) or why Mavis was required to make the coffee more than anyone else.  Other possibilities include colleagues talking too loudly on the phone, why doesn’t Simon answer the phone more, Daphe’s spending too much time on Facebook and not on her work and so on.  In a way it was a refreshing change not to read about such weighty matters.

Of course, one other way of airing a grievance is to go online, as Daphne does. Much has been written about the need for employers to have social media policies and employees will fall foul of the dangers of making comments on Facebook as long as the web exists. A recent example of this  is demonstrated by Air Stewardess Tatiana Kozlenko who was sacked (but then  reinstated) for posting a picture on a social networking site of someone (not her apparently) “giving the finger” to the passengers on her Aeroflot flight. It was then posted onto Twitter.  Click here for the article in the Daily Telegraph.  I was slightly surprised to read that the airline announced her dismissal on their Twitter feed.  Sensibly they reinstated her, subject to a probationary period because, it seems, the picture wasn’t taken on an Aeroflot flight. You can tell because the seats face forward and aren’t made of wood.

Another employee who wasn’t reinstated after expressing his thoughts online was Andrew Rainnie.  He was a call centre worker for JohnLewis.com and was sacked by his actual employer, Teleperformance for posting a critical riposte to a blog post by a John Lewis director.  Rainnie took issue with the comment that John Lewis’s “Partnership” structure promoted “shared responsibility and shared reward”.  Unfortunately that culture of caring and sharing does not extend to Teleperformance workers who, obviously, aren’t John Lewis partners and thus don’t share in the rewards.  According to Rainnie they instead shared a good deal of abuse from irate customers despite, according to him, the dotcom part of the business contributing 65% to John Lewis’s profits. He wrote “We receive minimum wage, no discount, and our Christmas bonus for being abused on a daily basis was a bottle of Waitrose wine”.  He also predicted he would be sacked for making the comment; which he was, for breach of its social media policy.

Rainnie had only worked for Teleperformance for three or four months when sacked, meaning the company was not at risk of being sued for unfair dismissal.  If it had ended up in an ET it would have made for an interesting case and some scrutiny of the employer’s social media policy.

How should disgruntled employees express their dissatisfaction? Filing a formal grievance usually isn’t a good career move and with the government rolling back employees’ legal rights redress via a Tribunal will now be more expensive and harder to obtain than before. Keeping a low profile might be more sensible, especially if there is a mortgage to pay and food to be put  on the table.  One thing I would advocate though is take legal advice rather than cleaning fluid to find a solution.


Michael Scutt, Employment Solicitor 

Employment solicitor with Crane and Staples, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Blogger & writer. I like cycling, cricket, football and history.