Tribunal Tales – T King v Tesco Stores

The Claimant in this case was a Customer Assistant working in Tesco. In October 2018 the Claimant had an absence review meeting with his manager Jo Francis. He explained that he suffered from PTSD after an incident that occurred when he was held hostage while working in the Prison Service.

In December 2018 an incident occurred in the staff search room. Ms Francis wished to discuss with the Claimant his attitude to working extra shifts. During this interaction the Claimant became uncomfortable and was physically prevented from leaving the room by Ms Francis using her shoulder, foot, and by grabbing his arm as he squeezed out of the door.

After the incident Ms Francis expressed surprise that the Claimant would have felt intimidated or threatened by her because she is a 5-foot 4-inch woman and he is a 6-foot man. There were various meetings discussing this incident but the Claimant’s allegations of being trapped were not taken forward. Ms Francis also claimed to have forgotten that he suffered from PTSD due to her pregnancy related health issues, but the tribunal did not find this to be convincing taking into account the fact that she herself suffered the same condition.

In February 2019 the Claimant was signed off as unfit for work for one week and then a subsequent two weeks. During this time there were issues in contacting the Claimant, his reasoning being he was too unwell with the effects of PTSD to talk to them. The Claimant was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing regarding unauthorised absences and a failure to keep in contact on 2 March 2019. The Claimant explained that the incident had triggered a relapse in his symptoms and he was finding it difficult to leave the house. He was dismissed.

The Claimant was unable to pursue a claim for unfair dismissal as he did not have the prerequisite two years of service and therefore brought a claim of sex discrimination. Direct sex discrimination is where an employee is treated less favourably due to their sex. If a female employee with a known history of PTSD complained about being falsely imprisoned by Ms Francis, would this have been taken seriously? The tribunal said yes. Those who saw the CCTV footage had their judgement clouded by the assumption that a man could never feel intimidated or threatened by a pregnant woman. The Claimant would not have been dismissed if he was a woman.

The lesson from this case is clearly set out by the tribunal itself.  “Good equality and diversity training, regularly repeated, covering a wide range of protected characteristics, is the best way to support managers in what can be a challenging job in a high-pressured environment.” They also criticised the Respondent for not providing easy to access HR advice. In this case none of the managers took HR advice before making a decision. This is imperative when seeking to avoid tribunal claims such as this one.

If you have any questions on any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.

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