COLUMN: James Wilders - Employer had to eat humble pie

IN a recent case involving Santos v Disotto Foods Ltd, the Employment Tribunal awarded over £59,000 to a claimant, who had suffered from stress and was eventually dismissed after confusion over a management instruction involving banoffee pies.

IN a recent case involving Santos v Disotto Foods Ltd, the Employment Tribunal awarded over £59,000 to a claimant, who had suffered from stress and was eventually dismissed after confusion over a management instruction involving banoffee pies.

Mr Santos had worked for Disotto Foods since 1994. He was a factory manager by 2009, working 12 hours per day. His contractual weekly working hours were 57. He had not signed an opt-out of the maximum 48-hour working week, and he fell ill with stress in April 2009 and had two weeks off work.

On his return to work, Mr Santos agreed to change his job to warehouse manager, as part of a reorganisation of the expanding business. This involved a reduction in pay from £43,000 to £35,000 and his contractual hours were reduced from 57 to what was described as “40 plus”.

From June 2009, the employer embarked on disciplinary action over a number of issues and Mr Santos was dismissed after an incident in November 2010. He was accused of not following a management instruction to load a vehicle with what appears to have been four banoffee pies.

Mr Santos had been at work from 6am that day, going home at 5pm for an hour and a half to see his children. He returned to work at 6.30pm. At 10pm, he failed to load the vehicle as instructed, claiming later that he was unsure of which vehicle he was supposed to put the pies on. He completed the loading the next morning.

The Employment Tribunal upheld Mr Santos’s unfair dismissal claim. Mr Santos was in a position of responsibility and had chosen the best way to carry out the instruction he was given. The incident for which Mr Santos was dismissed was “so slight a matter that no reasonable employer could reasonably contemplate dismissing an employee because of that matter”.

The Employment Tribunal awarded Mr Santos £59,315. This case is a reminder to all employers that disciplinary action for failure to follow a management instruction should take into account the surrounding circumstances.

:: James Wilders, employment partner at Newcastle-based law firm, Dickinson Dees

 

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