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Dear Nick: I'm afraid of a disciplinary action

Mental health coach Nick Elston advises an accountant who was subject to homophobic comments and is worried about the possible consequences of reporting the incident.

23rd Mar 2020
Speaker and coach #TalkingAnxiety
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Pubs at night
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The dilemma: I was out with some friends whereby I was subject to very grotesque homophobic comments.

I asked the party of people involved to keep their opinions to themselves and this escalated into an argument and I swore at them. I was with no work people, no business name, etc. but everything has been caught on camera and there was about 20 people in the pub to witness.

Now I am worried that if I pursue this with the police a complaint will be brought against me if he finds out I’m an accountant – or would I have to report what I have done anyway?

The response

Firstly Anon, thank you for sharing this with the AccountingWEB community and myself.

Your situation must have made you feel very anxious, angry and afraid.

I have always been very firmly anti-bullying from a very young age and find the abuse you have suffered in the ‘very grotesque homophobic comments’ absolutely despicable.

I find it admirable that you made a stand – it was certainly not the easy choice to do so – but sadly, that then presents a new set of challenges and outcomes, especially when it turned physical when he knocked your phone out of your hand.

I can understand why you now feel afraid of disciplinary action by the ICAEW, but for me, the fact that this was caught on camera with many witnesses only stacks the cards in your favour, having explained to me how this played out.

You were defending yourself, and others, from the hideous behaviour of the party involved, not proactively seeking trouble.

I am sure that some may say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. However, to be on the end of abuse, especially about an emotional and deeply personal subject that you obviously care passionately about will always provoke a reaction to those who are willing to make a stand.

In terms of pursuing this with the police – that is purely a personal choice on how you feel you should go forward with this – or let it go.  Whichever you choose, make good on that, and move on.

Personally, I don’t believe that you decision should be swayed by your fears of disciplinary action, especially after reading the valuable comments, cases and advice to speak to advisory bodies. It should be a decision made on what you think is right versus how much hassle this could bring in to your life.

As has already been said by a couple of people on the thread, this terrible event may only now be alive in you. The other person/people have no longer thought about it, therefore the threat that concerns you would be at 0%.

If the confrontation was non-violent physically and purely a verbal exchange (albeit with your phone being potentially damaged) you simply have to weigh up the payoff of police action, if successful, against the added anxiety and pressure this can add to your world right now.

That is a call only you can make.

I want to leave you with a story of when I first went self-employed and I worked for a supermarket part-time delivering groceries. 

One dark night, I was driving through some country lanes and a chap stepped out in front of my van, and I hit him.

I had witnesses to back up my story and I was breathalysed, which of course was clear. The police even told me it was this guy’s fault and I couldn’t have helped it.

However, that event stayed alive in my head for months.

I didn’t get any follow up by the police, the supermarket, the insurers – I even saw the guy a few months later and he was absolutely fine. But until that point, I was convinced that he was going to get me arrested, sued, fined, disciplined – but it was all in my head!

My experience may show you that your fears are just highlighting your anxiety and where you are right now.

Whatever you do, do it with confidence, and do it knowing you defended your beliefs – and I am sure everyone involved will see it that way as well.

The dilemma this month was based on the Any Answers question: ICAEW disciplinary.