Edwards v Bramble Foods Ltd – employee fairly dismissed after refusing to work overtime

redmans-blog-analysisIn the case of Edwards v Bramble Foods Ltd ET/20601556/2015 the Employment Tribunal held that an employer had fairly dismissed an employee when she consistently refused to work overtime on Saturday mornings and became disruptive.

Mrs Edwards worked for Bramble Foods Ltd (“Brambles”), a premium British food manufacturer and wholesaler. It employs about 75 people.

The ‘Christmas period’ from mid-September to late December is Brambles’ busiest period in the year, when it produces, packs and sells goods and hampers for Christmas. All of its employees are expected to work extra hours in order to ensure that all orders are fulfilled on time, with the employees’ contracts of employment containing a clause stipulating that Brambles could on occasion ask them to work such further hours as may be reasonably required.

Prior to 2014 the working of overtime was voluntary. From 2014 onwards the employer changed its practices and formalised overtime, requiring employees to specify which Saturday mornings they could work in September and October. Mrs Edwards refused to work any overtime in 2014, arguing that she had care commitments.

In June 2015 Brambles provided its staff with a form and asked them to indicate their availability to work between four and eight Saturday mornings in September and October (2015). Only Mrs Edwards and one other employee refused to work any overtime, but the other employee subsequently agreed to work overtime.

Mrs Edwards continued to refuse to work overtime, despite a number of informal discussions with management about the issue. It was explained to her that it was necessary for employees to undertake overtime due to the workload and that it was unfair for her to expect other employees to take up this burden but not her. Mrs Edwards stated that she would not work overtime on Saturday mornings as this was when she spent time with her husband.

On 3 August 2015 matters came to a head when Mrs Edwards reacted angrily following an informal meeting, banging her fist on a desk, shouting and swearing. A number of her colleagues complained about her behaviour, and a couple asked to be moved away from Mrs Edwards due to the fact that she was swearing and continually complaining about Saturdays. Mrs Edwards was sent home for three days on 5 August 2015 and asked to come back to work with a better attitude.

A further meeting was held on 1 September 2015 but Mrs Edwards still refused to work Saturdays. On 14 September 2015 a colleague raised a formal grievance regarding Mrs Edwards’ behaviour at work, alleging that Mrs Edwards was mocking those employees who had agreed to work Saturdays and that she was ‘boasting’ about being able to have a lie-in on Saturdays.

On 29 September 2015 Mrs Edwards was invited to a disciplinary hearing to address allegations that she had refused reasonable management instructions and that she had engaged in inappropriate and unacceptable conduct towards a fellow employee. A disciplinary hearing took place on 7 October 2015, at which the allegations were covered and Mrs Edwards continued to refuse to work Saturdays.

On 13 October 2015 Mrs Edwards was dismissed for gross misconduct.

Mrs Edwards brought a claim to the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal held that Brambles’ dismissal of Mrs Edwards was fair, notwithstanding some minor procedural flaws in the disciplinary process.  The Tribunal held that it was reasonable for Brambles’ management to expect Mrs Edwards to share some of the overtime burden, as required by her contract of employment, and that she had no legitimate reason for doing so. The Tribunal also held that Mrs Edwards had become disruptive to her colleagues and that there could have been serious consequences if Brambles had not dismissed her.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “The Tribunal praised the employer in this case for the patience with which it dealt with the disaffected employee – a lesson from this case is that employers should make some attempts to resolve disputes in the workplace but that, should the employer then take further steps to dismiss an employee because of a dispute, employers have a fairly free rein to take steps which are beneficial for their businesses.”