A staff takeaway lunch is, in non-COVID times, a common perk in many businesses – we here at Baines Wilson did it monthly and look forward to doing so again! Healthy alternatives were available of course…..
A car dealership in Watford though had a particularly expensive ‘Pizza Friday’ after a receptionist was awarded £23,000, in part for being left out of the order.
Miss Lewicka was employed as a telephone receptionist at the Hartwell Ford dealership in Watford from 2014 until a rebuild of the site in 2016. She was then transferred to another dealership until 2018 when she resumed working as a part-time receptionist at the new Watford site until she was made redundant in January 2019.
In March 2018, Miss Lewicka submitted a grievance relating to her pay, working hours and against her male manager for sex discrimination over a period of 6 months. This was investigated and the manager was issued with a final written warning.
After she moved back to the new Watford branch, Miss Lewicka was left out of the order for lunch on ‘Pizza Friday’. She had previously been asked for her order at the other dealership branch despite her not taking part due to her finishing work at 1pm.
The dealership claimed they did not ask Miss Lewicka for her lunch order as they always ate between 1pm and 2pm, after she had finished work. They also said that the lunches were ‘ad hoc’ and did not have specific dates.
In July 2018, the company decided that Miss Lewicka’s role as a service adviser needed to be full time. Miss Lewicka is a single mother and could not commit to a full-time role. Miss Lewicka was told “things would get awkward” if she did not accept the full-time role and in November 2018 she was the only part-time worker selected for redundancy. She was not offered alternative work. At the Tribunal, a manager in his statement claimed that he thought Miss Lewicka was “over egging the pudding to suit her needs” in relation to her complaints that she would not be able to take on a full-time role. The company relied on the legitimate aim of providing continuity of contact or service with customers and the aim of maintaining customer satisfaction as justification for dismissing Miss Lewicka.
Miss Lewicka brought claims for victimisation, unfair dismissal, indirect sex discrimination and less favourable treatment as a part-time worker.
While the Tribunal recognised that the maintenance of customer satisfaction is a legitimate aim, it did not accept that the requirement of full-time Service Advisers without exception was proportionate to achieving this aim.
The Tribunal found that Miss Lewicka had been subjected to victimisation due to the action of the managers, in particular a male manager who put the phone down on her during conversations many times and two employees who refused to speak to Miss Lewicka due to “a protected disclosure she had made”. It did not accept that the lunches were “informal and ad hoc” as the name ‘Pizza Friday’ suggested regularity and her exclusion was a result of the discrimination complaints she had raised.
It found that the lack of open mindedness as to whether Miss Lewicka’s role could be carried out as anything other than part time led to an unfair redundancy process. Miss Lewicka was treated less favourably than a comparable full-time worker. The redundancy process was discriminatory as it did not consider Miss Lewicka’s personal circumstances as a single mother with caring responsibilities.
Miss Lewicka was awarded £23,086. £22,000 of the award was for injury to feelings arising from the discriminatory treatment, including being left out of the pizza order.
Employees are protected from being victimised – treated unfavourably for raising complaints of discrimination.
Employers must ensure that complaints of discrimination are handled appropriately and taken seriously but their obligations don’t end with the conclusion of any internal procedures. Part of any outcome should include making it clear to anyone involved, including those implicated, that any retribution or mistreatment of the complainant will not be tolerated. Often explaining that they can be personally named as a respondent in employment tribunal claims and therefore be financially liable has an impact.
If you have any queries, please contact our employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.
This alert does not provide a full statement of the law and readers are advised to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained herein.