Can An Employee’s Negligence Amount to Gross Misconduct?

Can an employee’s negligence in failing to ensure that a colleague followed company policy amount to gross misconduct justifying summary dismissal?

Yes, was the decision of the Court of Appeal in the recent case of, Adesokan v Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Limited.

Lisa Moore of The Wilkes Partnership considers the implications of this decision which is likely to be of interest particularly for employers.

This case related to the conduct of Mr Adesokan, a long-serving Regional Operations Manager for Sainsbury’s, and the actions of a Human Resources Partner who reported to him.

The Human Resources Partner was tasked with undertaking an established staff satisfaction survey. This was designed to obtain feedback from employees on various issues such as working conditions. Sainsbury’s placed great emphasis on ensuring that the results of the survey were genuine and accurate.

The Human Resources Partner circulated the survey by way of email to managers of five of the stores for which Mr Adesokan had responsibility. The cover email circulated included suggested ways in which the survey could be influenced in order to produce better results for the region. Mr Adesokan was not aware of the content of this email when it was sent out, but when he subsequently did become aware of it he did not take sufficient steps to remedy the problem or to report the issue to senior management.

This matter subsequently came to the attention of the company’s CEO. It was accepted that Mr Adesokan had not colluded with the Human Resources Partner and that no harm had been caused to the outcome of the survey.  However, Sainsbury’s took the view that the lack of action by Mr Adesokan had risked the integrity of the survey and could have undermined the relationship between staff and management. Despite this being his only disciplinary offence during his last 26 years’ employment with Sainsbury’s, Mr Adesokan was deemed negligent and was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.

The Court of Appeal ultimately agreed with the Employment Tribunal, both having found in Sainsbury’s favour.

Lisa Moore comments: “Whether an employee’s actions amount to gross misconduct will ultimately be a question of fact in each case. Crucially, it was a relevant factor in the above case that Mr Adesokan’s contract of employment allowed for a summary dismissal due to gross misconduct. Further, examples of gross misconduct in Sainsbury’s disciplinary procedure did specifically include the wording, ‘any serious act or omission that leads to a loss of trust and confidence’. Accordingly, employers should ensure that examples of misconduct included within their disciplinary policies are drafted carefully and comprehensively.”

To discuss anything arising from this update, please contact Lisa Moore or any member of the Employment Team on 0121 233 4333.