Case law updates

“Flawed” investigation means claim for unfair and wrongful dismissal upheld

A Tribunal has found that a Poundland store manager was unfairly and wrongfully dismissed when she was fired for allegedly stealing a drink. Miss Stokes was awarded nearly £21k plus costs when the Tribunal found that the discount chain had no reasonable basis for its belief of her supposed misconduct, and had followed a flawed investigation process.

Stokes worked at Poundland from 2009 as an assistant manager and later store manager. She was successful in her role until a new area sales manager joined in 2015. In June 2017, the area sales manager entered Stokes’ office without warning to investigate an allegation that she had taken drinks from the “damaged stock” area. She was told that CCTV footage showed her consuming the drinks, although she was only shown a few seconds of the footage, walking with a drink in her hand.

Stokes, who was not offered representation, said she thought they were vexatious and malicious accusations as they had occurred shortly after a performance management meeting with an “underperforming” supervisor.

However, Stokes responses were given “scant regard” and the full CCTV footage was not produced, despite requests.

At her investigation meeting, Stokes mentioned finding some drinks on the shop floor, which were out of date. However, she could not recall walking into the office with a drink, noting that she had been working excessively over the last month – including 55-hour weeks and with no assistant manager – and was “frankly exhausted”.

During an adjournment at her investigatory meeting Stokes gave the name of the supervisor, as he was with her during the alleged incident. She was told to leave while the two managers at the interview called him, but no record or statement of the call was produced.

Stokes was suspended and forbidden to contact staff, while the area manager undertook further investigations. None were carried out and no statements were taken from witnesses and no investigation report was produced.

Having had the disciplinary hearing postponed onceas it was at too short notice”, Stokes lodged a grievance against the supervisor and raised concerns about the investigation, requesting another. Although she did not receive a reply, her grievance and the concerns were discussed at her disciplinary hearing. She disagreed with her grievance being part of the hearing. Her request for a further investigation was ignored.

Poundland dismissed Stokes by letter, upholding the theft allegations. She appealed. This was first delayed by a month, then adjourned as the person concerned lacked the papers and needed to further investigate. Ultimately the appeal was rejected.

The tribunal found that the theft investigation, which should have been “very thorough”, was “flawed” and raised concerns of bias and lack of representation or formal meetings. It also raised concerns around the lack of CCTV and other evidence.