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The Mystery Shopper

The Problem

One of my clients staff informed her that she had overheard a colleague offering services to a client at home. She knew this was wrong of course and effectively it meant she was stealing clients from the salon.

Having obtained some advice, the salon owner interviewed other members of staff one of whom confided that they had seen the colleague erase a customer from the book saying “that’s one for me”.

The salon owner routinely asked friends to visit the salon and give her independent feedback, she called them her “mystery shoppers”. A visit was hurriedly arranged and by chance the therapist under suspicion took the booking. At the end of the treatment 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 the salon owner regarding her actions and the processes she was following. However a disciplinary hearing was arranged and the therapist was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.

At her appeal she asked for specific evidence of clients that had been poached, and for evidence that the salon had lost clients. She claimed colleagues had lied to get her job and her clients. She claimed that the salon owner had “wanted rid of her”. Her representative was extremely aggressive and argued the evidence of her “spy” should be disregarded.

There were threats of Solicitors and Employment Tribunals and the employer began to worry about her decision. However, she was reminded that for her decision to be fair she only had to believe the employee was guilty and have reason for that belief which she had. The mystery shopper wasn’t a spy and the employee had freely offered to “treat her at home”. The appeal was rejected.

The Tribunal

To her credit the employer and all of her staff attended the Tribunal hearing 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 and the “mystery shopper” also attended.

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

After a full day hearing the employment judge advised that she found the dismissal fair.

She commented that the salon owner had merticulously followed her disciplinary procedure and had carefully evaluated the evidence. She 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.

Key Issues

  • The employees had Contracts of Employment, Salon rules and a Disciplinary procedure.
  • The disciplinary procedure was followed to the letter, there were notes of every meeting.
  • Statements from staff were taken immediately and signed.
  • The use of a mystery shopper was seen as wholly permissible.

David Wright Personnel

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