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Senior manager’s lack of action was serious negligence amounting to gross misconduct

The Court of Appeal hold that a senior manager’s failure to prevent Sainsbury’s staff engagement programme being undermined was serious negligence amounting to gross misconduct justifying summary dismissal.

In Adesokan v Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, Adesokan (A) was a Regional Operations Manager with 26 years’ service, responsible for 20 stores. Sainsbury’s operate a Talkback Procedure (TP) designed to ensure that staff are engaged, motivated, and take pride in their work. The HR Partner for A’s region, Briner (B), sent out an email to five store managers containing advice which offended the philosophy of TP and risked compromising the results. A asked B to clarify what he meant, but took no action to remedy the problem.

When Sainsbury’s CEO found out about the situation he requested that an investigation be launched. This lead to a disciplinary hearing. It was accepted that A was not complicit with B. However, A was accountable for the TP on his region, he was aware that B had communicated to stores in a way that deliberately set out to manipulate the TP scores and had failed to take any adequate steps to rectify this serious situation. This demonstrated gross negligence which was tantamount to gross misconduct and A was summarily dismissed.

A claimed wrongful dismissal, arguing that his actions, or more accurately his lack of action, did not amount to gross misconduct so as to justify summary dismissal. The High Court, however, held that A’s failure to take active steps to remedy the situation did amount to gross misconduct. A knew that the advice in the email was a breach of a core part of Sainsbury’s operating process and philosophy and it had the potential to affect the integrity of the results. A appealed arguing that his conduct was not capable, as a matter of law, of amounting to gross misconduct. The neglect was not so shockingly bad as to warrant the label “gross”.

The Court of Appeal rejected the appeal. A was responsible for ensuring the successful implementation of the TP in his region. Once it became known to him that the integrity of the process was being undermined, it was his duty to ensure that this was remedied. Merely requiring B to clarify the situation, was not enough. Given the significance placed by Sainsbury’s on the TP, the High Court was entitled to find A’s inaction was a serious dereliction of his duty, which constituted gross misconduct as it had the effect of undermining the trust and confidence in the employment relationship.

The aim of this update is to provide summary information and comment on the subject areas covered. In particular, where employment tribunal and appellate court cases are reported, the information does not set out all of the facts, the legal arguments presented by the parties and the judgments made in every aspect of the case. Click on the links provided to access full details. If no link is provided, contact us for further details.  Employment law is subject to constant change either by statute or by interpretation by the courts. While every care has been taken in compiling this information, SM&B cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. Specialist legal advice must be taken on any legal issues that may arise before embarking upon any formal course of action.

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