As the saying goes, the customer is always right. But, a recent employment tribunal has ruled this is not always the case, especially when the “world’s worst customer” shouts and swears before demanding staff step outside for a fight.
Gary Hardy, 60, has won an unfair dismissal claim against Topps Tiles after he lost his job a store manager following an interaction with a ‘loud and aggressive’ customer, who came into the shop to complain about his order.
The customer was demanding a discount, after wrongly claiming his order was late. During this interaction, the customer launched into a tirade of foul-mouthed insults before demanding a refund as he became “increasingly aggressive”.
Mr Hardy, who had agreed to process a refund, was invited to join the customer in the car park for what the tribunal in Newcastle upon Tyne heard was an attempt to “escalate the situation into a physical altercation”.
Mr Hardy, who had worked at the Sunderland branch since 2002, was then told he and his staff were incapable of organising an enthusiastically drunken party in a brewery. At the counter, the man conceded: “Apparently I’m the world’s worst customer.”
Not wanting to disagree, both Mr Hardy and a female colleague concurred that he was indeed a “nightmare”. This triggered yet more swearing and insults, with customer claiming he was “shocked” at experiencing the “worst customer service”.
Mr Hardy, who had taken to steadying his nerves with sips from a mug of tea, ordered the man to leave. His gesture towards the door while holding the mug saw a little of the tea “accidentally” splash the customer’s face.
The hearing was told the customer left but told staff helping him to load his purchases into his van that “he had intended to hit the claimant outside, saying: ‘If he wasn’t such an old man, I would have decked him.’”
The customer complained to Topps Tiles, accusing Mr Hardy of ‘abuse’ and of ‘hurling’ the drink at him. Topps Tiles fired Mr Hardy as a result, believing the customers version of events.
A tribunal in Newcastle has ruled Mr Hardy was unfairly dismissed, and that the firm showed little regard for the need for Mr Hardy to stand up to members of the public, or his right to protect himself from unwarranted abuse. The panel also heard that two colleagues’ accounts of the incident tallied with Mr Hardy’s account. They also felt the customer’s version of events was accepted without question, and was not sufficiently challenged by company bosses.
The tribunal also heard Mr Hardy suffered from depression, meaning he could have difficulty in managing his response to a trigger such as an angry customer. The employment judge, Sharon Langridge, said “No weight was attached to the possibility the customer was making a false or exaggerated pre-emptive complaint, nor to his own admissions of serious verbal abuse.
“Overall, this appears to be a case where Topps Tiles took the view that the customer is always right, with little or no regard for the need for a store manager to stand up to a customer in order to protect himself or his colleagues from unwarranted abuse.”
Mr Hardy also won his claim that his dismissal was discriminatory because of his depression, as Topps Tiles did not take it into account when they investigated the incident or when they decided to fire him.
A figure is yet to be set for compensation.
Original article here.