News & Legal Updates
Sign up to news & legal updates
Mike Ashley has come under heavy criticism for underlying staff conditions at Sports Direct warehouses around the country. Some of this criticism is no doubt justified, but it is easy to kick the Managing Director when he is in front of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. The company has undoubtedly gone too far with their policies, but how does your business handle these common staff problems?
Sports Direct had implemented a “6 strikes and you’re out” disciplinary policy. What amounts to a “strike” can be fairly minor forms of misconduct such as taking too long in the toilet or chatting too much on the shop floor. Although a lot can be said for the clarity and consistency of the policy, it is not in line with the ACAS Code of Practice, a Code that all employers should follow.
It was said that this policy struck fear into the employees. That by itself does not make the policy unfair. A manager may choose to motivate their staff as they deem appropriate. What is unfair is the lack of subjective account of any mitigating circumstances. It appears that circumstances were not taken into account, with a mother rumoured to have given birth in the shop toilet for fear of taking an absence and earning herself a strike.
An employee should not be punished periodically for being absent from work with good reason. Absence procedures should be clear and followed. If employees breach these procedures (eg by failing to report their absence at the beginning of their shift) or a pattern of absence starts to occur (eg frequently off on a Friday afternoon or a Monday morning) then the employee should be called into a disciplinary meeting to answer any allegations. An employee should always be given the chance to answer any allegations. It is up to the employer to decide if any explanation is satisfactory.
Mike Ashley himself admitted that a policy which fined employees 15 minutes’ pay even if they were only 1 minute late was probably unfair. Again, if this happens once or twice, it would usually be reasonable to have a quiet word with the employee in question. If you start to see a pattern emerging, then you should think about having a disciplinary meeting and considering the possible disciplinary sanctions available to you.
Having obviously had previous issues with theft, Sports Direct had set up a rigorous 15 minute search system after each employee’s shift. Again there is nothing unfair with this on the face of it. Theft is clearly an example of potential gross misconduct and can be investigated. However despite the workers being forced to undergo these searches, they were not paid for this time and, as a result, were paid below the minimum wage. It is important to remember that “working time” amounts to any period in which the worker isworking, at his employer’s disposal and carrying out his activities or duties. A blanket search over all employees would amount to the worker carrying out his duties and being at the employer’s disposal, and the worker should therefore be paid for this time.
The above are problems faced by the majority of employers in the UK and there are a number of ways to skin a cat. For advice on particular commercial measures that can be tailored to suit your business, and to avoid ending up in front of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, speak to a member of the Blackadders Employment Team!
The opinions expressed in this site are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Blackadders LLP.
Blackadders takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the content of this site is accurate and up to date. The site is not, however, intended as a substitute for seeking legal or other professional advice but rather as an informative guide to the services provided by Blackadders and topical legal developments. Site visitors should always seek advice tailored to their specific situation. Consequently, Blackadders accepts no responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by anyone acting or failing to act on the basis of information contained on this site. Downloading of material contained on this site is at the user’s own risk and all necessary virus checks must first be carried out by the user. Blackadders is not responsible for the material found on any web sites linked to this one and links to this site may only be made with Blackadders prior consent.
Blackadders owns the copyright in this blog and all material contained on it. The material on this site may be downloaded for personal use only and must not be altered. Otherwise, Blackadders’ written consent is required before any material on this site is reproduced, copied or transmitted in any way.
Information passed to us via this site is kept confidential and will not be disclosed to third parties except if authorised by you or required by law.
© Blackadders LLP 2021
Members of the Law Society of Scotland.
Blackadders Solicitors is a trading name of Blackadders LLP, a limited liability partnership, registered in Scotland No SO301600 whose registered office is 30 & 34 Reform Street, Dundee, DD1 1RJ. Reference to a ‘partner’ is to a member of Blackadders LLP.Back to News & Legal Updates