Supermarket failed to explain the consequences of breaching health and safety rules

An employee working in a supermarket’s delivery yard was unfairly dismissed for wearing headphones, an employment tribunal has ruled.

The Employment Tribunal heard that the employee worked for Sainsbury’s as a commercial assistant in the delivery yard until his dismissal.

He worked in a known high-risk area: the loading bay and delivery yard dealing with the store’s deliveries from articulated lorries and the loading and unloading of vans. Although there was a safe working practice notice on the delivery yard’s noticeboard, which included an outline that any employees entering the area were required to wear high-visibility clothing and must be aware of any vehicles entering the yard, it did not specify against wearing headphones.

The store’s overall approach towards health and safety procedures was also covered in its employee handbook, which specified that failure to follow these procedures amounted to gross misconduct.

After the employee was seen wearing headphones at work, he was invited to a disciplinary hearing during which he apologised for his actions and vowed to not repeat them. The meeting ended with his dismissal. Finding the dismissal unfair, the Judge said that Sainsbury’s had focused on an assumption that he would repeat his actions, and had failed to outline that wearing headphones in the delivery yard was a health and safety rule or inform staff of the disciplinary consequences of wearing them.

This demonstrates that behaviour considered to be gross misconduct should be clearly set out in a company’s disciplinary policy – particularly if it intends to dismiss for a first offence.

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