Monthly Archives: August 2011

To catch a thief

Our client had two warehouses at opposite ends of the country.  They carried similar stock, had similar staffing levels, and were in similar areas (from a demographic point of view), yet one warehouse had a shrinkage (theft) rate way above the others.

On a fairly regular basis, security would catch someone stealing an item or two.  They were interviewed and dismissed.   All the captured thieves said “everybody is doing it”   but they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Despite the monotonous turnover of staff dismissed for theft, the thefts would reduce for a few weeks or months, and then start to increase.  It seemed as though even honest new recruits quickly turned to theft.   Large amounts of money were spent on surveillance and security.

Each individual who was caught was a fairly open and shut case – they were often caught red handed, and many confessed quite freely.    Job done?  Thief removed from the premises?

We had a look at how the security team were questioning the individuals they caught.   They were very focused on  “Do you confess….”.   With a bit of training and support from us, we got them to change the way they asked questions, and what they asked about.  We also helped them to look at the wider pattern of data surrounding the thefts and dismissals that had already taken place.

Outcome

It turned out it was the Warehouse  Manager who was co-ordinating the thefts, recruiting new staff and inducting them into the network.   He was arranging for individuals to be caught, both to punish ‘freelance’ thieves who were not within his protected group, but also to show that he was ‘onto the problem’.

He had a team of subordinates who worked with him, and they were trucking goods out of the warehouse on articulated lorries!

In the year after the Manager’s dismissal, the client saved a million pounds on stock losses alone.

See our previous blog

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website :  www.irenicon.co.uk
You can follow Annabel on Twitter

3 Comments

Filed under discipline and dismissal, employment law, Security, surveillance, Theft

A word to the wise

Sometimes the obvious decision isn’t the right decision for the organisation.  It is easy to get focussed on narrow issues, or rush towards a conclusion when a decision seems obvious.

We are all busy and no-one wants to make a big thing of a little thing.   We all need an intelligent friend to nudge us and say “This doesn’t make sense – check it out” or “Are you so sure about that?”

A retailer had half a dozen staff in each of three shops.  He was a very hands-on boss and knew all his staff quite well and saw them regularly.  He regularly opened and closed each of the shops and often worked alongside his staff during the day.

One of his staff had worked for him for a couple of years, and had been quite reliable and hard working.  He started getting into work late and seemed to have lost all interest in the job or getting in on time.

One day, the owner was standing by the door of the shop when the guy turned up 15 minutes late for his shift.   “What time do you call this?” said the boss.  He was met with a mouthful of abuse in front of all the other staff at the shop.

It is very hard for a boss to tolerate being publicly abused in front of their team.  The staff handbook specifically says that swearing and aggressive language is gross misconduct.

Once we got the boss calmed down, we asked him to have a very quiet and private word with the chap to find out what was really going on.  (There was no one else in a managerial role in the business).   With a bit of help from us he found out that:

  • The chap’s wife had left him
  • He had three kids to get to different schools by bus (he had no car)
  • He had not wanted to make it public since he hoped she would return
  • He was really struggling to cope

Outcome

This particular boss did something many would find difficult.  He decided to give this man a final warning and allow him to continue to work in the business, despite the fact he feared he would lose face in front of his team.  He also altered his working hours so that he started after he had finished the school run, had a shorter lunch break and picked up the kids from school.

Four years later the same man took his boss on one side and said “You were so good to me that time, I really think you ought to know…..some of your staff are organising a lorry to back into the loading bay tonight and steal a major amount of stock…………”  As a result of this, they were stopped (and fired in due course).   The plan was to steal an amount of stock that would have bankrupted the business.

See our previous blog

To be continued ……

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website :  www.irenicon.co.uk
You can follow Annabel on Twitter

3 Comments

Filed under discipline and dismissal, employment law, performance management

Seeing Red

Sometimes the obvious decision isn’t the right decision for the organisation.  It is easy to get focussed on narrow issues, or rush towards a conclusion when a decision seems obvious.

We are all busy and no-one wants to make a big thing of a little decision.   We all need an intelligent friend to nudge us and say “This doesn’t make sense – check it out”  or “Are you so sure about that?”

A customer complained that a waitress deliberately tipped a jug of iced-water into his lap and stormed off.   The waitress had only been employed  for six weeks.  When asked about the incident she agreed that is what she did.  Her line manager was anxious to ‘get rid’ saying she was obviously volatile.

Seems like an open and shut case of gross misconduct – why take any time over this?  What would you do?

We asked our client to go back and have a quiet word with the waitress to find out what made her do what she did.  We discovered:

  • The customer was part of a heavy drinking group who all turned up at lunch time
  • They were making very crude sexual remarks about the girls red hair and its extent
  • She repeatedly asked them to stop, and they just laughed
  • The manager was listed as on duty, but was in fact absent from the site making a long telephone call to his girlfriend
  • This waitress was 17 years old, and left on her own in a busy restaurant  with no support

Now, we all know that two wrongs don’t make a right.  It is plain that waitresses shouldn’t throw iced water over customers.

But, the staff handbook said:

  • Customer service  – “If you have a difficult customer, do not try to deal with them yourself, but speak to your manager who will take over from there”.
  • Sexual harassment – “We do not expect you to tolerate inappropriate comments from customers.  Please let your manager know immediately if you experience any problems”.

Would any of this make a difference to your initial decision?

Outcome

The girl was given a tactfully worded warning not to assault customers, and told firmly to walk off the floor if such an incident recurred (which was never triggered because she knew what to do next time).  She went on to be a very successful Area Manager.

The manager was given a warning  for his failure to remain on site and his failure to properly support his trainee.  He was also retrained on supervision and equality.

All managers were reminded of the importance of remaining on site during service, and encouraged to properly support their trainees.

The incident was used as a case study in the organisation (with the girl’s consent) to show how sexual harassment by customers needs proper support from managers in the workplace.

And the customer was asked not to return to the premises.

To be continued ……

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Websitewww.irenicon.co.uk
You can follow Annabel on Twitter

3 Comments

Filed under discipline and dismissal, discrimination, performance management

Workplace fall out from the riots?

A  lot of businesses will wake up today with problems stemming from the riots.  With clearing up and sorting things out, the sad reality is that many small businesses are tipped over the edge by looting and damage and will not be reopening when their insurance money eventually comes in.

For those whose who are clearing up and carrying on today, here is our short guide to the employment law FAQ we advised on last time there were a lot of riots.

Other duties – can I ask staff to do something unusual?

Employer’s normally need to contract for flexibility but in times of unexpected disaster you can  ask your staff to do duties they normally wouldn’t undertake.  It is not unreasonable to ask managers to wield a broom in these circumstances.  Most staff will be happy to muck in and help out. 

Be careful that you do not ask them to do anything dangerous, since health and safety has not been suspended, even if law and order has.  If a member of staff refuses their regular  or temporary duties on health and safety grounds you should take advice before continuing to insist.

If you are unlucky enough to have an uncooperative member of staff we would be happy to advise (new callers get 20 minutes free advice which should cover this).  

Employers and employees need to work together to find a way through this,  but it is important to know where the legal land  lies

Workplace shut?

If the workplace is entirely ruined or shut – beyond the staff helping to clear up then you should be aware that staff can be sent home but they may be entitled to be paid.  You need to look at your contract to see if they are entitled to be paid their normal rate of pay.  Sending staff home unpaid without consent can trigger constructive dismissals and you need to have some idea of what you are doing before you set off.

Your staff can agree not to be paid, or agree to take any unused holiday, but if they are not being paid, despite their agreement they will still be entitled to guarantee pay.  This is a statutory right.

In any event, anyone who can’t work because the workplace is closed has a default right to guarantee pay for the first five working days in any three month period.  The current rate is 50% of a day’s pay subject to a maximum daily payment of £22.20. 

Staff unable to attend

Some staff will have had their homes, or journey to work affected and eve if your workplace is open for business as usual, they may not be able to attend work on their normal basis.   

If your business has been otherwise unaffected you may be in a position to ask them to make up the missing hours at a later date.  If so, make sure you keep a proper record of which hours are missed, since memory fades and can trigger disputes.

In reality hourly paid workers may not be entitled to be paid for not being at work except under holiday and other paid absence schemes, so you should be sure you know what you contracted do, and what you are thinking of doing beyond the contract, so that you don’t get in a muddle and think you are obliged to do things you can’t afford.

Children can’t get to school

Some parents may find their children cannot get to summer school  or child minders booked for the summer holidays (even though they could get to work).  Parents are entitled to emergency unpaid dependants leave to sort out childcare and take care of children.   Some employers have contracted to pay specific number of days.  If you have not gone beyond the statutory entitlement it is to unpaid leave.

Parents often ask for annual leave at short notice to ensure they are still paid.  Many parents are already on annual leave now that the schools have broken up.

Where the job is suitable, and the children are old enough you might want to consider temporary home working, if the facilities for homeworking are there or quickly and easily assembled.   You need to take a few moments to be quite clear whether this is working at home for the normal hours (location shifting) or whether this also includes changing the hours (time shifting) so some work is done when the kids are in bed,e tc  and what duties you want done.  Although this is a useful short term measure, one of the problems with home working is figuring out how to measure what is being done.  Make short term arrangements if needed so you can get back to this once the initial crisis is over.

Customers chased away?

Some businesses will be open, staff available, but the customers may not be quick to return to areas that have been severely damaged.  You should keep a careful eye on your turnover and expenditure since this can be the last straw for some businesses.

Making payroll

If things are so bad you think you may not be able to make payroll, contact your bank and your accountant straight away.  We all hope the insurance companies will operate some kind of fast track system, but fast in insurance is not the same as fast in business and you need to take long hard look at what payroll is, and how much is in the bank (or not) and how much money is really going to be coming in over the next few weeks, particularly if your premises are in a badly affected area.  

Missing pay dates without agreement can trigger a constructive dismissal, never mind financial chaos for the staff, and difficult as it is, it is best to be honest with people and set out how things are, rather than make promises you can’t keep.

Have a cup of coffee with us

If you have questions we haven’t dealt with, please  email us on advice@irenicon.co.uk.  We will be happy to help.   We will be organising a few free telephone conferences (koffeeklatches as we call them) to support employers in Croydon.  Some will be during normal working hours and some outside them.    If you think you would like to participate email us on info@irenicon.co.uk letting us know what you want to discuss and whether you would prefer inside or outside normal office hours.   We can then make sure you know when they are.

Our heart goes out to all our business clients, and all the business community who are affected by the rioting.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website :  www.irenicon.co.uk
You can follow Annabel on Twitter

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Filed under contract, free stuff, pay, Riots