disciplinary hearingsemployment law

Hello and welcome to our sixth Employment Law Snippet article. As usual, this article aims to discuss a chosen topic in an interesting, non-jargon filled way and identify how it might affect employees and employers alike.

This week, we will be looking at coffee! Yes, that wonderful caffeine-laced drink! Let’s get the obvious point out of the way – I love coffee! One of my favourite memories is sitting next to Lake Como in a waterfront Italian cafe with a small but fiery cappuccino the day after proposing to my now wife. The coffee completed the moment…

But, hold on a second, coffee causing a disciplinary situation? What is that about?

Well, let’s take this morning as an example. Costa Express coffee machines are today (1st October) holding an all-day event where you can walk up to any of its machines (whether Merseyrail, Tesco, etc.) and take a hot drink for free, whether it be coffee or hot chocolate, whatever your poison. The drawback? Large queues at Merseyrail stations caused by commuters chasing a free coffee fix! Timed wrongly (like those at the back of my queue this morning), I reckon some people weren’t escaping with their coffee and arriving at work until at least 9.30am! They certainly wouldn’t have been helped by the super slow speed of the machine…

Technically, late attendance is a disciplinary matter which, if serious enough and/or repeated often enough, can lead to a formal disciplinary meeting on absence grounds. So, technically, one of the people behind me in my line this morning could have activated the ‘last straw’ mentality of their employer, especially when they announced their lateness was due to ‘queuing for coffee’!

Naturally, it would need some poor luck to fall foul in practice but, as per all things, sometimes a potential disciplinary situation can creep out of nowhere. Imagine an employee who missed their train by 1 minute last Wednesday and was 10 minutes late for work, then arrived 15 minutes late for work last Friday and then arrived 30 minutes late today because of being stuck in the free Costa Express coffee queue.

From the employer’s point of view, this would be pretty damning over the last 5 days. But from the employee’s point of view, it may be less controversial (i.e. last Wednesday’s delay could be due to going back work for an umbrella because of increasingly heavy rain, last Friday could be due to a cancelled train and today could be due to being in the Costa Express queue and simply losing track of time (or being willing to skip lunch and finish work later than usual to make up any lost time)).

This is why there is a usual process of holding an absence review meeting to allow an employee to put forward any reasons for late attendance in case there are innocent explanations and/or obvious bad luck following a lengthy period of good attendance.

In saying this, employees who regularly arrive at work late clutching takeaway coffee cups are an easy target so, whilst today may be a reasonable exception due to the Costa Express coffee machines being free, it may be a one-shot deal (unless my double-shot cappuccino!) and may cause a situation which, ironically, creates further need for a strong cup of joe!

My thanks for reading our sixth weekly Employment Law Snippet article.