Poundland boss was ‘unfairly dismissed’ for handing out freebies

The Employment Tribunal has ruled that a manager of Poundland was unfairly dismissed for handing out free items to customers.

It was heard in Watford Employment Tribunal that Mr Zia was fired after misusing a button on the till that allowed employees to give out free items in the event of a complaint or damaged goods. His employers argued that the employee had used this tool excessively throughout his employment at the branch and was in breach of its policies.

Between the 1st January and 13th May 2016, the Employment Tribunal heard that Mr Zia had handed out £312.65 worth of free items. As a result of this, Poundland’s area manager intervened and opened an investigation on Mr Zia.

Poundland argued that this button was not available during the period that Mr Zia had handed out free items, however, Zia and his colleagues responded claiming that they were unaware of this.

The area manager who conducted the investigations failed to do a written report, instead, escalated the matter to a disciplinary hearing. During this hearing, Zia disputed that he had given out free items as ‘gestures of good will.’ However, the investigatory officer concluded that the “only reasonable outcome of this process was to be a summary dismissal.” Mr Zia then lodged an appeal on the grounds that he had been trained to use the free item button.

On accepting Zia’s claim that the dismissal was procedurally unfair and did not meet the band of reasonable responses test, especially because the employee had a clean record, Judge Manley held that Poundland’s investigation failed for a number of reasons.

“Poundland has no one to blame but itself for very poor methods of communication. Poundland needed to be clear about what the misconduct was. The evidence on how or when the free item button was stopped is opaque and inconsistent.” Said Judge Manley.

The Remedy Hearing of this case is due to take place on 16th March 2018.

What is unfair dismissal?

To put it simply, unfair dismissal occurs when an employer terminates his employees contract of employment without having a fair reason to do so. Unfair dismissal can also be claimed in the event that there was a fair reason for dismissal, but the dismissal was handled using wrong procedure. Employees will be protected under legislation against both of these eventualities.

When is a dismissal fair?

The dismissal will be viewed as fair if the employer can provide evidence that the employee was dismissed for one of the following reasons:

  • The reason related to the employees conduct
  • The reason related to the employee’s capability or qualifications for the job
  • Because of redundancy
  • Because of a statutory duty or restriction prohibited the employment being continued
  • Some other substantial reason of a kind which justifies dismissal

When is a dismissal unfair?

A dismissal will be viewed as automatically unfair if the dismissal is connected with an employee exercising the following rights:

  • Pregnancy; this includes all reasons relating to paternity
  • Family reasons; including parental leave, paternity leave (birth & adoption) adoption leave or time off for dependants
  • Representation; including acting as an employee’s representative
  • Trade Union membership grounds and union recognition
  • Part time and fixed term employees
  • Pay and working hours

The case of Poundland highlights the importance of employers following procedure when disciplining an employee. Should an employee put themselves at risk of dismissal, this should be communicated through policies, investigations and disciplinary procedures.

It is important that employers have a consistent method of treating all employees fairly and in the same way. Policies and procedures may provide room for some discretion, but there should be careful consideration made when deciding not to follow a policy, and of the possible outcomes of this decision.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662.  You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.