Large High Street Retailer sacked employee for confronting ‘aggressive’ man who refused to wear face mask.

The employee was working for the retail giant in November 2020 when she was verbally abused by an ‘aggressive’ man. The hearing was told this ‘traumatic’ event affected her mental health and brought back past incidents. The hearing was told she went off work due to ‘high levels’ of anxiety and ‘severe’ depression in January 2021 after she confronted the shopper who refused to wear a mask.

The tribunal heard that during this time, the employee complained about ‘lack of action’ over the incidents and that she still felt ‘vulnerable’ being in store. The panel heard investigations were carried out into these concerns, however she was not told of the result due to ‘vague’ GDPR reasons.

During an ill-health meeting, the panel heard the anxiety and depression were caused by the pandemic in general but referred to that specific incident. Adjustments were discussed to facilitate her coming back. The tribunal was also told that in a meeting about her absence, she felt the employer had not ‘acted and dealt with abusive customers appropriately’.

She was dismissed after the employer concluded there were no adjustments that could be made to facilitate her return to work, so she launched a claim for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.

The tribunal was told two occupational health reports were made and she was deemed unfit to work, with her return unlikely in the foreseeable future.

The Employment Judge concluded: “It was in my conclusion outside of the band of reasonable responses which might have been adopted by an employer acting reasonably to dismiss without sharing the findings about the issues she had raised in relation to her personal safety and engaging about how her personal safety fears may be addressed in future…

“I am surprised that those matters were not explored with [her] given that [employer] is a well-resourced retailer in the UK and given that the plight of shop workers and the abuse they suffer at work is generally well known.”

The employee will be awarded compensation in due course. The tribunal assessed the likelihood of her dismissal in any event as 25% and therefore any compensatory award will be reduced by that percentage.

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