Almost half of a housing association's maintenance workers have been suspended over "staff matters" – leading to concerns that repairs to hundreds of properties could be delayed.
Your Moorlands, which is part of the Your Housing Group and owns 2,800 homes across the Staffordshire Moorlands, has confirmed it is carrying out an internal investigation into the conduct of some staff.
Union leaders have told the Post & Times that 17 workers are involved.
One staff member, who asked not to be named, said that the issue centred on a conference that all the association's workforce had to attend in Manchester on June 6.
He said: "Seventeen people, which is about half of the maintenance team, have been suspended.
"Everyone was told to attend a conference in Manchester and that you had to cancel everything including hospital, doctor's, and dentist's appointments, along with holidays, as it was compulsory. However, some left early as they had dependants and family commitments.
"These are now facing allegations of misconduct. Many have worked for the company for years and have an unblemished record. Workers feel very stressed and there is an air of fear.
"The suspension came weeks after the conference. No-one was interviewed; they were just told they were being suspended without any warning.
"This must now be affecting work on some properties, as some jobs were left half finished."
Martin Stevenson, Regional Director South for Your Housing Group, said: "Your Housing Group is currently carrying out an internal investigation into staff matters that involves some individuals from Your Moorlands.
"Your Housing Group is committed to concluding these fairly, swiftly and with minimal impact on services."
UCATT union shop steward Darren Chesters said the investigation involved individuals, rather than a group.
He said: "There is an investigation ongoing which concerns around 17 individuals.
"These people will be represented by local and regional union representatives at the hearings, which are due to start this week. We have got to present a case for each individual. As a union we can't say any more until these hearings have been conducted."
Leek district and county councillor Charlotte Atkins said the situation was "worrying".
Ms Atkins, whose district ward includes the large Haregate Estate in Leek, which is covered by Your Moorlands, said: "In this day and age, work and family life have to be balanced. It would be worrying if staff with a unblemished record were disciplined for leaving a conference.
"A union would not waste valuable time and money if they did not think they had a strong case. I hope this is not the start of putting out work to contractors. Local workers usually do a better professional job than contractors from miles away, as they are committed to their communities.
"Your Moorlands has a good record, but they just can't leave people in chaos because of an industrial problem."
Your Moorlands is presently involved in a joint partnership to build more than 400 affordable houses with Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.