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Senior Manager’s failure amounts to gross misconduct

The case of Adesokin v Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Limited concerned one of Sainsbury’s Regional Operations Managers, A. Sainsbury’s operates an employee engagement procedure, which deals with progression, target setting and pay etc. A was responsible for ensuring the successful implementation of the policy in his region. Managers are prohibited from interfering with the procedure. However, a Human Resources partner at Sainsbury’s emailed a number of store managers stating that they should encourage the most enthusiastic colleagues to complete the relevant engagement survey. A did ask the Human Resources partner to explain to the managers what was meant by the email but it was clear that the Human Resources partner had not done this.  

A chose to ignore the situation and did nothing to rectify the problem or draw it to attention. He was later found guilty of gross misconduct and summarily dismissed. He brought a claim in the High Court for wrongful dismissal. The High Court dismissed his claim holding that A’s failure to take active steps to address the situation amounted to gross misconduct. A appealed to the Court of Appeal but the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal. The Court of Appeal held that Sainsbury’s was entitled to dismiss A for gross misconduct and that in appropriate cases an act of gross negligence can amount to gross misconduct. In the Court of Appeal’s view, a failure to act could, in particular circumstances, amount to gross misconduct. In this case, because A was responsible for ensuring the successful implementation of the relevant policy in his region, once it became known to him the integrity of the process was being undermined, it was his duty to address the situation. His inaction amounted, in the Court of Appeal’s view, to a serious dereliction of duty, which undermined the trust and confidence and therefore constituted gross misconduct. The High Court’s decision therefore stood.  

This is case is an important reminder to employers that a failure to act can constitute gross misconduct, provided that the failure is sufficiently serious.