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Employment Tribunals - A Client Success Story

ARTICLE ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JUNE 2007

The Background

Mrs P has an established and successful salon in Essex. Her staff are well trained, have Contracts of Employment and she has a range of Personnel policies. In short she is a good employer.

She has never had any major issues with her staff and did not anticipate any!!

The Problem

One of her newer staff informed her that she had overheard her colleague offering to treat a client at home. She was concerned because she was a new part time employee and picked up clients when her colleague columns were full. In short this client could potentially be treated by her.

Mrs P immediately interviewed other members of staff who confided that they had seen her erase a customer from the book saying "that's one for me". Several of the staff were close friends with the employee and were reluctant to speak but each gave some evidence which further enhanced Mrs P's suspicions.

Mrs P routinely asked friends to visit the salon and give her independent feedback. A visit was hurriedly arranged and by chance the therapist under suspicion took the booking. In conversation the client said she liked the treatment but couldn't afford to rebook. She was - advised that she could "treat her at home more cheaply" adding that she was steadily building up her client base before leaving.

The Disciplinary

The therapist was suspended and invited to an investigative interview, she and her representative were extremely hostile. The representative insisted on taping the interview. The employee denied any wrongdoings and questioned Mrs P regarding her actions and the processes she was following. However a disciplinary hearing was arranged and the Therapist was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.

This however is only the beginning of the story. At her appeal she asked for specific evidence of clients that had been poached, evidence that the Salon had lost clients, she claimed colleagues had lied to get her job and her clients. She claimed that Mrs P had "wanted rid of her". Her representative was extremely aggressive and argued the evidence of Mrs P's "spy" should be disregarded.

There were threats of Solicitors and Employment Tribunals and Mrs P began to question her initial decision.

However, WE REMINDED HER THAT THE ONLY QUESTION WAS DID SHE BELIEVE THE THERAPIST HAD POACHED CLIENTS AND DID SHE HAVE REASONS FOR THIS BELIEF. Her colleagues had attended the hearing and repeated their statements and the mystery shopper retold her story. Mrs P turned down the appeal and the case went to Employment Tribunal.

The Employment Tribunal

I assisted Mrs P in preparing her case and provided support at the tribunal. To her credit all of her staff attended and repeated what they had seen and heard. One of the staff was heavily pregnant and could easily have opted out of such a stressful situation. Mrs P's friend even took time off work to attend.

Significantly when asked to declare the extent of her losses following her dismissal the former employee was reluctant and we suggested this was because there weren't any as she had immediately become self employed and indeed had already a portfolio of clients!

The Decision

After a full day hearing the Chair advised that she found the dismissal fair and rejected the application.

She commented that Mrs P had meticulously followed her disciplinary procedure and had carefully evaluated the evidence. Mrs P was clearly of the view that the therapist - had been poaching clients and had sufficient reason to reach that conclusion.

The staff had been willing to give evidence against her. It was clear that there was nothing inherently wrong with the use of the "mystery shopper".

An extremely satisfying outcome to a stressful 6 months period. Interestingly the incident actually brought Mrs P and her team closer together and she didn't forget to reward them for their support.

Points to remember

  • Mrs P's salon had Contracts of Employment, Salon rules and Disciplinary procedure without these documents they would have been extremely vulnerable at Employment Tribunal.
  • She followed (with advice) the disciplinary procedure to the letter, making sure there were notes of every meeting.
  • She took statements from her staff immediately and these were signed.
  • The use of a mystery shopper was seen as wholly permissible.
  • Mrs P was aware that unlike in a court of law, she did not need proof. In the employment arena there is a lesser burden and employers require only a reasonable reason to believe that something has happened.

Employment Tribunals are stressful environments but there is a recognition that Salon Owners and Managers have a right to reasonably protect their business and that they can reasonably seek to discover if staff are being dishonest. The media tend only to report cases where employees win large sums of monies and the employer has slipped up. I hope that this article serves to redress this balance.



David Wright Personnel

Phone - 01302 563 691

Mobile - 07930 358 067