A call centre boss who was sacked by mobile giant EE after office banter got out of hand and a man was kicked unconscious at his desk has won her employment tribunal case against the firm.
Fay Hand, an operations manager for almost 17 years at EE's Darlington site, has won a five-figure payout for unfair dismissal.
The tribunal judge found she had an unblemished record and was "clearly a highly-regarded and valued employee" but she was sacked when a member of her team snapped after one prank too many.
Tribunal judge Gerald Johnson wrote that call centre work could be "somewhat mundane and repetitive" and that there were "occasional incidents of banter".
Examples included "crop dusting" - breaking wind near a colleague - as well as switching the language on a computer keyboard, swapping screens to cause confusion and taping up a computer mouse. But last September things turned more serious.
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One employee had his car keys pinched and a new Fifa computer game inside the vehicle was taken and held for ransom.
The employee grew angry, but his immediate boss did not stop the horseplay.
Mrs Hand, who was in charge of 11 team leaders and 111 agents, commented to the team leader that the employee was not happy and told her to "sort it out".
The employee soon after admitted he had a "sense of humour failure" and the issue was believed to be resolved.
But the following month when the same employee's security pass was defaced with a permanent marker by a colleague, he flipped and kicked his victim at his desk, knocking him unconscious.
The attacker was immediately suspended and the next day he came to work with a three-page statement, setting out what had been happening, and claiming the security pass incident was the "last straw".
He claimed his team leader and operations manager Mrs Hand did not take his complaints seriously.
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EE sacked seven employees, including the victim, the kicker, the team leader and Mrs Hand. The firm said she failed to protect the employee and breached its policy on harassment and bullying.
But the judge found that managers held a wholly inadequate investigation into Mrs Hand's actions, and that her dismissal was pre-judged.
Speaking after the case, the mother of two from Wynyard, Teesside, said: "It was painful but I had to stand up for myself.
"It was worth going through all of that, I can hold my head up high again with a clear record.
"That is what I wanted.
"I did love my job, I did it well and there had not been any issues."
She no longer has a call centre job and works in an office managing fewer people.
Her solicitor John Mitton, of PG Legal in Gateshead, said: "From the outset of meeting with our client, it was evident that there were a number of failures adopted by EE with their procedures. This should be a time for reflection on EE's part."
An EE spokesman said: "We are one of the largest employers in Darlington. We take our responsibilities towards our staff very seriously and have robust policies in place that ensure a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment in the workplace.
"We accept the tribunal's ruling."
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