Standing Up To The ‘World’s Worst Customer’ Does Not Necessarily Make Dismissal Fair
An Employment Tribunal has recently held that an employee was unfairly dismissed for standing up to the ‘world’s worst customer’.
Mr Hardy, 60, was a store manager at a branch of Topps Tiles plc. He suffered from depression, such that he was a ‘disabled person’ within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010. On 14 November 2019, Mr Hardy stepped in to assist a colleague when a loud and aggressive man confronted the store employees to complain about an order and demand a discount. A verbal altercation ensued, during which Mr Hardy asked the customer to leave and gestured while holding a cup of tea, ‘accidentally’ splashing the customer in the face.
Topps Tiles dismissed Mr Hardy, believing the customer’s version of events over his. However, Employment Judge Sharon Langridge held that Mr Hardy was unfairly dismissed, and his dismissal was discriminatory contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 in that it arose from his disability.
The tribunal explained this was a situation where Topps Tiles took the view that ‘the customer is always right’, with little or no regard for the need for Mr Hardy, as store manager, to stand up to a customer in order to protect himself and his colleagues from unwarranted abuse. The customer’s version of events was not challenged or subjected to any scrutiny.
Further, Mr Hardy’s long-standing issues of depression meant he could have difficulty in managing his anger when responding to triggers such as angry customers at work, and this had not been taken into consideration by his employer at the time of his dismissal.
This decision highlights the fact-sensitive nature of unfair dismissal cases, as well as the strict requirement for employers to carry out substantively and procedurally fair dismissals.
Read the full judgment here.
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This article was prepared by Tom Revitt.