A warehouse manager who was sacked for disobeying an instruction to load four banoffee pies onto a lorry before he went home at the end of his shift has been stripped of his right to compensation by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
The man had worked as manager of the foodstuffs warehouse for seven years and had suffered from work-related stress in the past. His employer was of the view that his performance was declining and he had been given warnings in relation to his dealings with more junior staff and his failure to do as he was told. The pies incident triggered disciplinary proceedings that led to his dismissal for misconduct.
The Employment Tribunal (ET) upheld his claim for unfair dismissal and awarded him substantial damages on the basis that the pies incident, which had happened when he was exhausted at the end of a 13-hour shift, was ‘so slight a matter’ that dismissal fell outside the range of reasonable responses that was open to the employer.
In upholding the employer’s appeal and ruling that the man’s dismissal was fair, the EAT found that the ET had fallen into the trap of substituting its own view as to the seriousness of the matter for that of the employer. A thorough disciplinary procedure had been followed; the employer genuinely believed that it was a case of misconduct and, in failing to load the pies when instructed to do so, the man had been guilty of ‘flat disobedience’.
This case emphasises that it is the role of the ET to decide if dismissal fell within the range of reasonable responses for an employer to take, and it is not for them to determine what they would have done in that scenario. Although at one end of the scale one employer might not have dismissed in these circumstances, it was nevertheless reasonable for this employer to have done so given the fact that the employer was satisfied that this was a case of disobedience, rather than forgetfulness, and the employee had already been given previous warnings for not doing as he was told.