Context: In employment for a small London based software engineering company (3 employees including me) for 18 months now. No previous warnings or grievances or disciplinary procedures.
I was due into work last Friday after my Christmas break but was told not to come in until today as they wanted to keep the office closed (I was given a "mandatory" holiday). I was asked to review my employment contract and the employee handbook (both of which I never seen or signed before this point in time) on said "mandatory holiday" via email. This should have sent alarm bells ringing but it didn't.
Fast forward to today, in the office at 9am and was called into a meeting telling me they are investigating me for gross misconduct and that I'm suspended effective immediately. A final review will be held next Monday and that I'm entitled to have some present (I have no coworkers to bring with me).
The gross misconduct has stemmed from a piece of software I was asked to rewrite (open source with a restricted licence) to ensure there were no licencing issues. I committed this work believing it to resolve the issue, asked for a review to confirm but was instructed by my manager to release it. Today (approximately 4 weeks since the software was released) is the first piece of feedback I was given on that work and it as to tell me I am being investigated for gross misconduct since they "they reviewed it over Christmas and it looks very similar" and it means "potential legal issues for the company". I was told the outcome would either be dismissal or a demotion with an appropriate pay cut.
They have removed access to my emails (I can no longer access my employment contract or the employee handbook that I was only given last week) and removed access to the code that they have an issue with (I can no longer review it or get someone else to review it to see if there is, in fact, an issue). I have send an email formally requesting access to both of these things.
I really shocked at what has happened and I am still gathering my thoughts but I have a few questions:
- Keeping in mind I asked for a review of my work to check if it met the criteria of what was asked of me to do (which I wasn't given) and then ordered to release the code, am I being made a scapegoat for any potential legal action?
- I was only given a copy of my contract last week with the handbook. Is it acceptable to hand me this and then retrospectively accuse me of violating it?
- Who do I bring to the review next week?
- Should I immediately start applying for a new job?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Neither my request for a review, my being asked to release the code or me being tasked with removing/rewriting the licensed code is in writing. It's a small company and we usually just discussed things rather than writing them down.
The lack of not having signed a contract or haven been given an employee handbook is likely incompetence but I wasn't aware of any procedure around this or that I could have even been in violation of any of the company rules.
To my knowledge they are not facing any legal action. The release was private and only given to one customer who has yet to download it. As of this moment in time they have not removed it from their releases website.
Literally the only information I have been provided on this is them saying "it looks very similar". This was communicated verbally and nothing has been given to me in writing. This was communicated before I was told I was suspended and told to leave the office.