Friends falling out at work – Grounds for dismissal?

Posted by Thomas Sutherland

Employment & HR - Morecrofts

Thu 24th, Sep

How does the famous FRIENDS TV show theme tune go?  ‘I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour. I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before…’  Naturally, being a massive FRIENDS fan, I just had to get part of the theme tune in there when using the show as the subject for a blog.  

Whilst it would be ironic to quote Chandler’s famous line to Rachel of “I’m not so good with the advice… Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?”, I’ll do my best to stay on track.  So, in all seriousness, what could happen if friends fall out at work and could you even be sacked for it?

Well, let’s explore the question further.  And to do so, let’s look at the rather unusual case of Mealing v Edmonds t/a The Gatehouse Diner. 

In this case, a very small employer had to deal with a tricky problem.  Namely, what to do with two former friends who had fallen out with each other so badly they struggled to even speak to each other.  Things got to such an extreme stage that the employer was forced to initiate disciplinary action against both of them.

Importantly, one employee’s behaviour improved after the disciplinary meeting (we’ll call this employee ‘Phoebe’).  Phoebe told her employer that she would speak to her colleague in future.  Unfortunately, the other employee (whom we will name ‘Monica’) merely stated that she would ‘think about it’ and continued to refuse to speak to Phoebe.

Due to Monica’s utter refusal to speak to Phoebe, and the negative atmosphere this caused in the workplace, she was eventually dismissed on grounds of her behaviour towards Phoebe.  A further consideration of the employer in doing so was finding out about a series of abusive text messages sent to Phoebe by Monica.  These text messages used foul language and made clear that Monica would not try to maintain a professional relationship with Phoebe as requested by her employer.  

In light of the facts, and despite the employer’s procedure being technically flawed, the tribunal ruled that Monica’s behaviour was so poor that she should not receive any compensation.  In particular, the tribunal rejected Monica’s argument that it was unfair for the employer to dismiss her and not Phoebe as well.  This was primarily because Phoebe’s behaviour had improved following the discussion with her employer, whilst Monica’s had not.

It is important to note various specific circumstances of the case, one of the main ones being that the business was a small, cosy diner in which each employee had close proximity to another.  This meant that a problem in individual working relationships would have a big effect on customer service, as well as workplace morale and productivity.

At the end of the day, an employee is never going to be sacked for simply falling out with a colleague.  It is the ongoing effects of the falling out on the workplace which is crucial.  Therefore, unless the falling out has a major effect on the running of the business, colleagues will still have to work with those individuals they are not especially keen on!  

But don’t worry, there’s always that FRIENDS boxset and an accompanying cuppa when you get home…

Does your business need mediation services? Contact Morecrofts now.

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