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Premier Kitchens is a company designing and manufacturing fitted and custom-made kitchen furniture operating from a Business Park in Camford. The company has 250 employees and has been operating for 15 years

Employment Law



Case Study Background Information

Premier Kitchens is a company designing and manufacturing fitted and custom-made kitchen furniture operating from a Business Park in Camford. The company has 250 employees and has been operating for 15 years. You are a recently recruited HR Manager (you replaced the previous Personnel Manager- Tim Kerry who retired two months ago). The company has taken the opportunity of restructuring your predecessor’s role to give formal acknowledgement of the growing importance of HR. You must advise the Managing Director on what needs to be done in the following two scenarios.

When you arrived in your new job you discovered that there were few up to date policies and procedures for the management of human resources. Many decisions have been made by line managers with little or no clear guidance from the previous Personnel Manager who had concentrated on the line management of the small team of general administrative staff, rather than getting involved in human resource issues which have been left to line managers. There appears to have been no training on handling the difficult issues for line management. There is a formal disciplinary procedure and a formal grievance procedure which seems to have been downloaded without modification from another business website several years previously.

Terms and conditions for all staff are generally good and include competitive pay and a defined contribution pension scheme, whereby the company contributes 3% of gross pay and the employees 5% into the scheme. There are other more minor benefits such as reduced cost membership of the local leisure centre for employees and company vehicles for senior managers and sales “representatives”.

Scenario One

You were visited today by the Sales Manager, Mary Taylor. She received an email last week from the previous Personnel Manager- Tim Kerry. He told her that he had met a friend who told him that one of the Premier Kitchens fitters, George Burton, was privately fitting kitchen units at very low, cut-rate prices and he thought this was being done on company time, but not through the ‘books’ as company work. Tim went to see one of the kitchens and he thought that the kitchen units looked like Premier units and he thought Mary should know because she might want to investigate. You are aware that there have been continuing stock control problems in the Premier with units ‘disappearing’ from the stock inventory at regular intervals but the stock controller cannot work out how units are being ‘lost’. You wonder if the information from Tim may have something to do with the missing units – has someone, possibly George or someone else, been stealing them for George to fit in his spare time?

George has worked for Premier Kitchens for over ten years. He is an employee who has a term in his contract which says that he is not permitted to fit kitchens for another employer whilst in the employ of Premier. He has always had good appraisals and has a clean disciplinary record.

The next day Mary asked George to come in to talk about it. He instantly denied fitting other kitchens ‘on company time’ and said his time-sheets would show that. He said he sometimes did small private jobs in his spare time, at weekends and in the evenings, to make more money. He also denied using Premier units, saying that his clients bought/provided the units and he just fitted them although he knew that some of the units did look like Premier. He did not know where his clients obtained them from.

Mary did not believe him. She was annoyed that he was providing a service which was in direct competition to the company even if he had nothing to do with the missing units, although she strongly suspected he also had something to do with this. She said that he had let the company down and she had no choice but to dismiss him. He was asked to collect his tools and leave the building. George phoned Mary the next day and asked if she would reconsider but she refused. After an angry conversation with her he said that ‘he would not take this lying down’ and she ‘would hear from his lawyers’.

Mary is worried by this and has come to you and explained the situation.

Give your advice as to the legal issues involved and the strength and/or weaknesses of the company’s case.

What do you need to do to either refute any claims alleging that the dismissal is unlawful, and give an assessment as to whether you believe the company’s case is weakened by a failure to fully carry out a disciplinary process?

Scenario Two

Mark Winston is a salesman working for the Sales Department. He is paid a basic salary of £10,000 per year and the rest of his remuneration is made up of commissions on sales and performance-related bonuses. His job involves traveling around builders located around the region, selling kitchen ‘installation packages’ for new residential housing developments.

Four months ago, whilst at work, he suffered a road traffic accident and displaced two vertebrae in his back. As a consequence, he has severe back pain when he drives for more than an hour at a time. A letter from his hospital consultant states that he suffers from a spinal condition that is likely to continue for several years and he will sometimes require strong pain-killers. Mark has come to see you to ask if he can have additional breaks in the day so that he can rest. He asks if you can modify his remuneration package as he cannot earn as much as he used to because he cannot make as many sales calls as he used to.

Set out the legal implications of this situation and make recommendations to your Managing Director about how to deal with this issue.


Further Case Scenario Background Information:

Premier Kitchens Disciplinary Procedures (extract)

1)  Purpose and Scope

The Company’s aim is to encourage and help individuals to improve their conduct and achieve and maintain standards of job performance and attendance. The company rules are in your staff handbook and are also displayed in the general office at each site. This procedure applies to all employees. The aim is to ensure consistent and fair treatment for all.

2)  Principles

  1. a) The disciplinary procedure is designed to establish the facts quickly and to deal consistently with disciplinary issues. No disciplinary action will be taken until the matter has been fully investigated.
  2. b) Employees will be informed of any allegations against them at least 3 days before any formal disciplinary meeting is held.
  3. c) At final stages only, employees will have the opportunity to state their case and be represented, if they wish, at the hearings by a fellow worker where deemed appropriate.
  4. d) No employee will be dismissed for a first breach of discipline except in the case of gross misconduct when the penalty will be dismissal without notice or payment in lieu of notice.
  5. e) The procedure may be implemented at any stage if the employee’s alleged misconduct warrants such action.

3) The Procedure

Minor faults will be dealt with informally but where the matter is more serious the following procedure will be used:

Stage 1 - Oral Warning

If conduct or performance does not meet acceptable standards the employee will normally be given a formal oral warning, which will be recorded, but will be “spent” after 6 months, subject to satisfactory conduct and performance. S/he will be advised of the reason for the warning, that it is the first stage of the disciplinary procedure, and of his or her right of appeal.

Stage 2 - Written Warning

If the offence is a serious one, or if a further offence occurs, a WRITTEN WARNING will be given to the employee by the supervisor. This will give details of the complaint, the improvement required and the timescale. It will warn that action under Stage 3 (below) will be considered if there is no satisfactory improvement and will advise of the right of appeal. A copy of this warning will be kept on the individual’s personnel file, but will be regarded as “spent” after 12 months of satisfactory conduct and performance.

Stage 3 - Final written warning or disciplinary suspension

If there is still a failure to improve either conduct or performance to a satisfactory level; or, if the misconduct is sufficiently serious to warrant only one written warning but not sufficiently serious to warrant dismissal (in effect both a first and final warning) A FINAL WRITTEN WARNING will be given to the employee. This will give details of the complaint, and warn that dismissal will result if there is no satisfactory improvement within a specified timescale, and will advise of the right of appeal. A copy of this final written warning will be kept by the line manager but it will be “spent” after 24 months, subject to satisfactory conduct and performance. Alternatively, consideration may be given to imposing a penalty of a disciplinary suspension without pay for up to a maximum of five working days.

Stage 4 – Dismissal

If conduct or performance is still unsatisfactory and the employee fails to reach the prescribed standard DISMISSAL will normally result. An appropriate senior manager can take the decision to dismiss. The employee will be provided, as soon as reasonably practicable, with written reasons for the dismissal and the date on which the employment will terminate.

4)    Appeals

An employee who wishes to appeal against a disciplinary decision should inform the Personnel Manager within two working days. An appropriate manager along with the Personnel Manager will hear the appeal and their decision will be final. At the appeal any disciplinary penalty imposed may be reviewed but cannot be increased.

5)  Gross Misconduct

The following list provides examples of offences that are normally regarded by the Company as gross misconduct:

  • Theft, fraud, deliberate falsification of records, deliberate damage to company property, or any other conduct of a dishonest nature that results in personal gain.
  • Fighting, and physical assault on another person
  • Serious incapability through alcohol or being under the influence of illegal drugs
  • Any operation of machinery after taking any alcohol or drugs which impair abilities to operate machinery
  • Serious negligence which causes unacceptable loss, damage or injury
  • Serious act of insubordination
  • Any periods of absence exceeding 3 days without “good cause” and without the express permission of management (employees should note the sickness absence reporting procedure in staff handbook)

If you are accused of an act of gross misconduct, you may be suspended from work on full pay, normally for no more than five working days, while the company investigates the alleged offence.  If, on completion of the investigation and the disciplinary procedure, the company is satisfied that gross misconduct has occurred, the result will normally be summary dismissal without notice or payment in lieu of notice.

Premier Kitchens Grievance Procedure (extract)

Purpose and Scope

This Procedure applies to all current employees of the company and covers all issues which are amenable to local determination and resolution.  The guiding principle of this Procedure is that issues should be resolved as near their point of origin as possible and as soon as possible.  In consequence the timescales included in the Procedure may be extended or shortened by mutual consent. 

Stage 1

An employee who wishes to raise any issue in which s/he is directly concerned must first raise it with their immediate manager, making it clear that s/he is taking the first step in the procedure. 

Stage 2

Their immediate manager will arrange a meeting as quickly as possible so that the issue can be discussed with the employee(s).  This meeting will be held in a room away from the general work environment. If a satisfactory solution has not been reached within a maximum of 5 working days the employee may refer the issue to their Manager’s superior under Stage 3 of the Procedure.

Stage 3

The Manager’s superior will arrange a meeting as quickly as possible so that the issue can be discussed with the employee(s).  If the employee wishes to have a fellow employee as their representative present at this meeting, then the employee must notify the manager of their representative’s name and they will be invited to attend.

If a satisfactory solution has not been reached within seven working days, the employee may refer the issue to the Personnel Manager who will arrange for a Senior Manager to meet with the employee(s) and (where requested) their representative under stage 4 below.

Stage 4

The Senior Manager will arrange a meeting as soon as possible so that the issue can be discussed with the employee(s) and his/her representative – this meeting shall take place not more than seven working days from the employee’s request. If the Senior Manager is unable to resolve the grievance, the employee(s) can request a final “Appeal” meeting with the Managing Director.

Final Appeal Meeting

The Managing Director will arrange a meeting with the employee(s) and his/her representative in no less than 7 working days (subject to his/her availability).  Any decision taken by the Managing Director to resolve the grievance at this stage is final.

Note:  If the grievance involves a complaint against the immediate manager of the employee(s) the matter can be referred, in the first instance directly to the Manager’s superior (as under stage 3).  However, the immediate manager must be informed in writing of the grievance against him/her.

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