Saturday, June 18, 2005

Dooced: the radio play draft1


GEOFFREY Here we go, just up here. (BEAT) It's sad when I have a favourite place to park for a Tribunal. It's been, what, four times in the last five years?

SUNITTA Three times, actually, Geoffrey. We settled one out of court.

GEOFFREY Not this time, though?

SUNITTA No, she refused our offer. You know what these martyrs are like- they have to have their "day in court".

GEOFFREY I'm not sure why I'm here. She was only a publishing assistant.

SUNITTA I hope you don't say that today! We decided that a turn out in force would show that Carver was acting as a company, not from individual spite.

GEOFFREY Well, anyway, it makes the company look bad. Last thing we need at the moment, negative publicity. My neck's on the block with all this takeover talk.

SUNITTA I thought that was all finished.

GEOFFREY It's gone quite a bit, but could flare up anytime. (BEAT) And here's a space!




MARGARET Good morning. Please sit down. (CHAIRS) Welcome to Newbury Employment Tribunal. We are today hearing the case of (BEAT) Sue David against Carver Solutions Limited, for wrongful dismissal. Before we start, I should say a few words about proceedings. I am Margaret Williams, chair of the Tribunal; I am addressed as Madame Chairman - I am not 'Your Honour'! (SLIGHT LAUGHTER) Who is representing the appellant? That is, Ms David?

SUE I am representing myself, your… Madame Chairman.

MARGARET Very good. And Carver Solutions?

ROBERT Robert Jones, Madame.

MARGARET Ah, Robert. (PAUSE) To explain our procedure, we will first hear the appellant, Ms David's, witnesses, and then the respondent, Carver Solutions. Each witness will present their written evidence, under oath, and will then be cross-examined. After we have heard the evidence, we will hear any closing statements and the Tribunal will consider its verdict. We may announce the verdict or reserve it pending further submissions. (PAUSE) As there are quite a few in the public seating area today, I should perhaps remind everyone to behave with dignity; no photographs, no talking during evidence, and (BEAT) please turn your mobile phones off! (PAUSE) Now, are we ready? Ms David?

SUE Thank you. (BEAT) I will call no witnesses other than myself. I have submitted my statement in the prepared papers, and will now take the stand.


SUE (READS) I am Susan Janice Davies, of Station Road, Newbury. I was employed from 30 September 2000 to 12 March 2005 as a Publishing Assistant in the Web Content Section of Carver Solutions Limited. On 12 March 2005, I was dismissed without notice on the grounds of gross misconduct through a breach of the company's acceptable use policy for computers and through bringing the company into disrepute. These allegations arose from an entry I had posted on my blog the previous date entitled 'Board stupid'.

MARGARET (CUTS IN) Excuse me, could you clarify what you mean by blog?

SUE What? Oh, yes, of course. (BEAT) A blog is a personal website, like an online diary, that can be readily updated. I have been running mine for a year.

MARGARET And it is available for public view?

SUE Yes, Madam Chairman, although most of the readers are people who know me.

MARGARET Thank you for clarifying. Please continue.

SUE Um.. (READS) This blog entry nowhere identifies the company or individuals by name. It is my belief that the disciplinary action is an attempt to divert attention to the serious business problems faced by the company, and that I have been denied natural justice. (BEAT) And that is the end of my statement.

MARGARET Thank you. Would Carver wish to examine the witness?

ROBERT Indeed. (PAPERS RUSTLE) Ms David, can I draw your attention to our Document 1, your contract of employment, as issued when you started work for the company.

SUE Yes.

ROBERT You will note that it states that you will "comply with all reasonable requests of the employer".

SUE Yes. (BEAT) Yes, but (PAUSE)


SUE It does not define "reasonable". It was my belief in signing the contract that I was binding myself to comply with requests I thought reasonable, not what the company thought reasonable.

ROBERT You're not a lawyer, are you? Such a clause would be superfluous: it would be like saying "you will carry out anything as long as you want to".

SUE Are you saying the contract contains no superfluous clauses?


MARGARET Perhaps we can move on?

ROBERT Your contract binds you to comply with requests. Now look at our Document 2, the Acceptable Use policy. Is that your signature?

SUE Yes.

ROBERT So you agreed to its terms.

SUE Umm, yes.

ROBERT Not "Yes, but"?

SUE Actually, yes. The policy is incredibly strict. It seems to have been drawn up by someone with no experience of modern technology. It says that ANY use of the internet for non-work purposes is Gross Misconduct.

ROBERT So you signed it intending to breach it?

SUE When I signed it, I assumed that this was the company policy, and would be followed. It emerged in the course of my time at the company that use of the internet for private purposes was accepted.

MARGARET Established by custom and practice, Robert?

ROBERT Perhaps, Madam. (BEAT) Your blog entries show when they were posted.

SUE Yes.

ROBERT So they show that they were posted during work hours.

SUE Um, yes. When things were quiet.

ROBERT "Things were quiet"? Wasn't there anything more productive you could with your time?

SUE Well, nobody works all the time. At least I wasn't distracting my colleagues by talking to them about sport. If I had work to do, I did it. If I didn't, I waited. And while I waited, I wrote.

ROBERT On company time. Let us move on to Document 3: the blog entry in question.

SUE Yes, I have it here.

ROBERT Now, you understand that it is our contention that it brings the company into disrepute.

SUE I do. (BEAT) It does not.

ROBERT No? Perhaps you could read it out for us?

SUE If you wish. (PAUSE) (READS) Well, that’s ruined my day. I got here bang on time (and therefore was the first in the office), to find a panicky email from Genghis Can’t, head of operations, calling me in to an emergency management team meeting this morning. No, I haven’t been admitted into the League of Very Ordinary Gentlemen of which said team is composed; he needed someone who could plug a projector into a laptop for his Powerpoint presentation, and since the company does not currently employ any monkeys trained for the purpose, it fell to me. (LAUGHTER)
So I got to sit in on their deliberations as they faced the takeover crisis. The last to arrive was Teflon Man- nothing sticks to him. As they went through the Action Points from the last meeting, for his, he first denied that it had been assigned to him, and then blamed his staff for not having done it. He formed a partnership with Inaction Man, whose response to any question was to sigh and say “It’s not quite that simple…” The Silver Sofa was sat upon by everybody. He seemed more interested in my cleavage than in the discussion (LAUGHTER) (understandable, perhaps, but the blatancy with which he was doing it was embarrassing, and totally gross). Eventually they agreed that the only solution to the takeover was for all staff holders of company shares to hold on to them, and they drafted a memo to be circulated to that effect. Being a young female in the room, they mistook me for a typist, so I had to write it for them. I was glad to escape back to my desk and get on with some real work, although now that I had seen our leaders up close, I didn’t give much for the long-term survival of the company.

ROBERT Thank you. Clearly this would be very damaging to the company, at a critical time.

SUE Well, it might be damaging- if I had said which company.
ROBERT You used your real name for your blog, so it could be easily identified.

SUE Perhaps.

ROBERT So you accept that you damaged the company's reputation?

SUE I'm not sure quite what you mean?

ROBERT The question is clear enough.

SUE Ok, well: if you mean, "Did I damage Carver by making statements about unidentified individuals employed by an unidentified company in an unpublicised forum?" I think I'd have to say no. If you mean, was it damaging for me to reveal that Carver's senior staff were unable to operate simple equipment or carry out basic management tasks, I'd have to say, maybe, but if there were no problems there would be no damage.

MARGARET Is the witness saying that her statements are true?

SUE No, Madam. Although I, personally, may think that they are true, for the purposes of the blog they are intended to amuse and instruct.

ROBERT And does your "blog" include a disclaimer to this effect?

SUE Well, it's widely known in the blogosphere that..

ROBERT (CUTS IN) Sorry, does it include a disclaimer?


ROBERT You complain in your post about inappropriate sexual behaviour.

SUE Yes.

ROBERT Yet you are not claiming sexual harassment?

SUE No. It was the treatment of me as a person that I was objecting to.

ROBERT Did you consider this a grievance?

SUE Perhaps.

ROBERT Yet you didn't use the company's grievance procedure?


ROBERT That is all.

MARGARET Thank you, Ms David. (PAUSE) Well, if that concludes the appellant's case, we will take a recess, and return at 11.30 am.

SUNITTA (READS) I am Sunitta Gupta, Human Resources Manager, Carver Solutions. On 12th March I received an email from a member of staff alerting me to the existence of Ms David's blog. I read the content, and asked IT to provide me with internet logs from the day before. I then called her into my office, where she was dismissed for Gross Misconduct on the grounds of breaching the Company's acceptable use policy and of bringing the company into disrepute.

ROBERT You ran the disciplinary proceedings?


ROBERT Is it normal to investigate anonymous allegations?

SUNITTA No. (PAUSE) But since in this case, I verified for
myself that the offence had taken place.

ROBERT And then you followed the procedure.



SUE Thank you. Perhaps I can ask you about company policies?

SUNITTA Well, sure.

SUE Policies apply to all staff?

SUNITTA Yes, they do. Sometimes they specify departments, but company policies, all staff.

SUE Even you?

SUNITTA Well, yes.

SUE What if you breached one?

SUNITTA Well, let's see- obviously I can't police myself, so it would be the Chief Executive.

SUE And above him?

SUNITTA The directors.

SUE So 'all staff' means 'all employees'.


SUE And then…

ROBERT (CUTS IN) Madam Chairman, the point is made!

MARGARET Yes. Ms David, move on, please.

SUE I believe that you are responsible for the company's grievance policy?

SUE You will recall that earlier it was suggested that I should have raised a grievance.

SUNITTA Yes, yes you should.

SUE The policy has been established some time.

SUNITTA About five years.

SUE Would you consider it effective?

SUNITTA It is industry standard, I believe.

SUE But does it work?


SUE Can we measure its effectiveness? Perhaps you could tell us how many grievances have been raised?

SUNITTA Yes (BEAT) Four since January 2003.

SUE And what happened?

SUNITTA Um.. I'm sorry, they are confidential.

ROBERT Madam Chairman, we cannot disclose information of this sort. The system requires anonymity.

MARGARET Very well. Ms David?

SUE I am not interested in the details, but the process. Perhaps we can look at the cases as a whole?

SUNITTA Well, all right.

SUE So there were four cases- is that a lot?

SUNITTA Not for the size of company.

SUE And each raised a grievance with company practice or staff?


SUE How many of these grievances resulted in changes in company practice or staff?
SUNITTA What? Changes? Oh, er, um. (BEAT) None.

SUE None. And of the people who raised the grievances, how many now work for the company?


SUE Sorry?



DAVE (READS) I am David Nathaniel Stewart, IT Manager, Carver Solutions. On 12th March 2005, I was requested to provide internet user logs for the preceding day by Mrs Gupte., which I did.

ROBERT And this is Document 4?

DAVE Yeah, that's right.

ROBERT Could you perhaps explain what we are looking at?

MARGARET I'm sure we all need some help!

DAVE Well, basically, the log file is created by the page requests from the users as they pass through the router and the IP addresses are logged. It can then be queried and downloaded to monitor usage.


DAVE The IP addresses, the web pages, visited, are recorded, and then we can trace which computers looked at which sites.

ROBERT I see. And in our "logfile" we have highlighted user 188. That is Ms David's computer?


ROBERT And so the log demonstrates that she was visiting her website during her working hours?

DAVE Um, yes.

ROBERT Thank you.


SUE These log files are quite long.


SUE This one runs for ten pages, that must be, ooh, 5,000 web pages viewed.

DAVE Yes, that's typical for a day.

SUE So, looking at my stats, I viewed 50 sites.

DAVE Well, 45.

SUE And I spent an average of 2 minutes looking at each.


SUE How many were work related?

DAVE I can't be sure. It's up to staff members to determine what is relevant to them.

SUE So you can't actually police their usage?

DAVE No, that's not our job.

SUE Some of these users visited the same site over and over.


SUE What does that tell you?

DAVE Nothing much. It's usually something like a news site- people click on it every few minutes as a way of taking a breather.

SUE And what about these web addresses with "ss" in the address.

DAVE Secure servers, used for financial transactions.

SUE I see. So this block here was, who?

DAVE Let's see, that's, um, Geoffrey Parker.


GEOFFREY I am Geoffrey Parker, Chief Executive, Carver Solutions Limited. As such, I am responsible to the directors for the activities of my staff, and it is my job to ensure that they follow the company procedures.

ROBERT You hold regular management team meetings?

GEOFFREY Yes, we normally meet weekly. We have more if needed.

ROBERT As at this time, with the takeover.

GEOFFREY Yes. We had been subject to a hostile bid, and since 50% of the shares are held by staff members, our best protection was to ensure that none of these changed hands.

ROBERT So a time when the staff's confidence in the company was vital?

GEOFFREY Very much so. Otherwise, everybody would be rushing to sell their shares first to benefit from the offer price, which had risen substantially over the last few days.

ROBERT And that's why the blog was so damaging.

GEOFFREY Well, potentially damaging. In the event, we fought off the bid anyway.

ROBERT But serious nonetheless.

GEOFFREY Yes, and we remain under threat.

ROBERT Thank you.


SUE Hello, Geoffrey. Getting a good look?

MARGARET Ms David! Please treat the witness with respect.

SUE I'm sorry, Madam Chairman. Mr Parker, have you formed an opinion about the identity of people in my blog?


SUE And are you one of them?

GEOFFREY Well, I deny that it is accurate, but yes, I suspect that I am lampooned as the Silver Sofa. But since you didn't raise a grievance, we…

SUE (CUTS IN) No, we've been through that. Let's move on. (PAUSE) Now, this memo I typed for you.


SUE All staff. No shares to be sold. Immediate dismissal.


SUE Quite severe?

GEOFFREY They were desperate times, my dear.

SUE Not your dear!

MARGARET Ms David, please.

SUE I'm sorry. These were 'desperate times'. So you had to keep checking the stock market for the share price?

GEOFFREY Yes, it meant losing control of the company if anyone sold their shares.

SUE Not everyone has shares?

GEOFFREY No., its senior staff.

SUE And your hoilding?

GEOFFREY It's about, 5%, I think.

SUE Worth quite a lot.

GEOFFREY Well, you know, "The value of shares can go up and down", as they say.

SUE Do you use the Internet much?

GEOFFREY Not really, no- don't have it at home.

SUE So you manage your portfolio from the office.

GEOFFREY Well, I suppose so. It doesn't take long.

SUE Acceptable use, perhaps.

GEOFFREY I think so.

SUE But on this day, you seem to have spent nearly an hour on your secure server to you broker.

GEOFFREY Well, yes, but…

SUE Selling your shares?


SUE Shall we ask the broker to provide the information?

GEOFFREY No. Yes. Selling shares.

SUE Thank you.



MARGARET We have reached our verdict. (PAUSE) We find for the respondent. The appellant agreed to abide by company policies and failed to do so. Since she has not demonstrated that she has been singled out as an example, the company has acted correctly. (BEAT) However, we do suggest that the respondent review their policies so that there is less of a gulf between them and actual practice.



SUE (SNIFFS) Blast, blast, blast! They got away with it!

DAVE You did well, though, Sue, made 'em look stupid.

SUE As if that's hard! (BEAT) They'd better not see you.

DAVE No, it's ok, they stomped off to the pub.


RADIO ANNOUNCER And in financial news, troubled electrical company Carver Solutions has been taken over following the resignation of Geoffrey Parker, the chief executive. The FSA are investigating possible charges relating to share dealings. Mr Parker was not available for comment.
. Copyright Martin Locock 2005