A tribunal has ruled that an employee working in a supermarket’s delivery yard was unfairly dismissed for wearing headphones.
Onyike had worked for 13 years at Sainsbury’s as a commercial assistant in the Wandsworth store’s delivery yard. This was a known high-risk area with a safe working practice notice on the yard’s noticeboard and a more detailed health and safety procedure in the employee handbook which specified that failure to follow these procedures amounted to gross misconduct. On two occasions in March 2017, Onyike was caught working in the delivery yard whilst wearing headphones and was told to remove them. On the latter Onyike said the headphones were turned off. During an investigation into failure to follow health and safety procedures, Onyike admitted to wearing headphones but said there was no music playing and he was unaware he was wearing them. During 3 disciplinary hearings, Onyike accepted he had been told not to wear headphones, but maintained that he could hear and that he didn’t believe this would endanger him. He apologised and vowed not to do it again. Onyike was dismissed but brought claims of unfair and wrongful dismissal against Sainsbury’s.
Finding Onyike’s dismissal unfair and wrongful, the Judge said that Sainsbury’s had focused on its assumption that he would repeat his actions and failed to outline that wearing headphones in the delivery yard was a health and safety rule or inform staff of the disciplinary consequences of wearing them. This is a reminder to all businesses to ensure procedures are up to date and specific to their environment.