In the recent Court of Appeal decision of Adesokan v Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd it was held that an employee was guilty of gross misconduct where he had failed to ensure that a key company procedure concerning staff engagement was properly carried out.
The employee was a regional operations manager responsible for 20 stores. The employer had a procedure called ‘Talkback’ designed to ensure staff motivation and engagement. The procedure involved gathering feedback from employees which they provided in confidence. A member of HR emailed the employee’s store managers encouraging them to focus on getting their ‘most enthusiastic colleagues to fill in the survey’ to deliberately manipulate the scores in his region. The employee asked the HR manager for clarification on why he had done this and when he received no response did not take any further follow up action, despite being aware that the HR manager had failed to follow his instructions.
The employee was dismissed on the basis that he failed to take adequate steps to remedy the manipulation of the survey scores which the employer argued was gross negligence and tantamount to gross misconduct. He sued for breach of contract.
The High Court held that his inaction resulted in a ‘loss of trust and confidence’ sufficient to justify dismissal. On appeal, the Court of Appeal held that when determining gross misconduct, the focus was on the damage to the relationship between the parties. The question for the judge was whether the employee’s dereliction of duty was ‘so grave and weighty’ as to amount to a justification for summary dismissal. The CA agreed with the High Court, that it was a serious dereliction of his duty and the fact no harm was actually caused was not a mitigating factor. It held that the trust and confidence of the employment relationship had been so undermined as to constitute a finding of gross misconduct.
In light of the decision it is worth employers thinking about which policies and procedures are most important in their businesses and what processes are in place to ensure they are followed correctly. Is their importance communicated to employees all the way down the chain and are employees aware of the consequences of failing to follow procedures and policies? This case also highlights the need for organisations to ensure managers are properly trained in their policies and processes to ensure that standards are followed and messages are disseminated from the top down.
For information about Boyes Turner’s Policy tracker service and also our Employment and HR training courses – which includes courses on employee engagement – please visit our website www.boyesturner.com or email [email protected]
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