Nurseries expect their staff to adhere to their policies and procedures and may want to instigate disciplinary action, including dismissal, against any employee who they believe has breached them.
But what happens when a nursery manager wants to dismiss an employee for breaching a policy or procedure, but there is no evidence that the employee has any knowledge of the policy or procedure in question?
Here are the facts
Emma had worked for the Nursery for over two years. Her appraisals were always very positive and she had not been subject to any complaint or disciplinary action regarding her conduct. Last September, Emma had been responsible for taking some of the children in her room out of the setting to the local park.
After Emma had left the Nursery on the trip, it was revealed that she had not taken the required Nursery mobile phone with her. This led to the Nursery Manager investigating further, whereby it was revealed that Emma had not completed a risk assessment or contingency plan for the trip either. Both these issues were entirely in breach of the Nursery’s policy and procedures: equipment must be taken and a risk assessment and contingency plan be completed prior to any trip taking place.
The Nursery invited Emma into a disciplinary meeting in relation to her breaches of the Nursery’s policy and procedures. In this meeting, Emma outlined that she had no knowledge and was not made aware of any Nursery policy or procedure in relation to the equipment which should be taken on trips nor the requirement to complete a contingency plan and risk assessment for each trip. The Nursery did not believe that Emma had no knowledge of these procedures and wanted to dismiss her as they had lost trust and confidence in her completing her duties in a safe and professional manner.
Did the employee know or not?
However, after taking advice from Croner, the Nursery investigated what evidence they had which supported that Emma did in fact know of the procedures in question before any disciplinary action. There was no evidence, such as a signed declaration, that Emma had received the staff handbook where the procedure was contained and although there was an induction carried out when Emma commenced employment with them, there was no written evidence as to what was covered. Furthermore, there was no evidence that Emma had ever completed a risk assessment or contingency plan for any trip she was responsible for.
Therefore, given the lack of evidence in relation to Emma’s knowledge, had the Nursery dismissed her for her breaches of policy and procedure, it would have likely been found to be legally unfair and the Nursery would have been likely to pay Emma financial compensation.
This case highlights that if a Nursery wants their employees to adhere to policies and procedures and wants to discipline them if they breach them, it is vitally important that there is evidence regarding each employee, which relates to the employee being aware and having knowledge of the relevant policy and procedure, for example, a declaration signed by the employee which confirms they have read and understood the policy and procedure.