Worker wins tribunal after confrontation with maskless shopper

M&S worker wins unfair dismissal case after she was sacked for taking five months off sick over ‘traumatic’ confrontation with shopper who refused to wear a Covid mask

  • Deborah Daisy was confronted by an ‘aggressive’ man who refused to wear mask
  • Tribunal panel heard Mrs Daisy found the incident ‘traumatic’ and went on leave
  • She was off for five months with anxiety and depression before she was sacked
  • Panel ruled she was unfairly dismissed as M&S did not inform her about outcome of investigation into any possible adjustments that could help her return to work 

An M&S worker successfully sued the company for sacking her when she went off sick after confronting a maskless shopper.

Deborah Daisy was verbally abused by the ‘aggressive’ man while working for the retail giant in November 2020, an employment tribunal heard.

The hearing was told this ‘traumatic’ event affected her mental health and brought back past incidents, namely an armed robbery and her chasing a shoplifter out of the shop to a bus stop.

Mrs Daisy had not received training in dealing with crime, the panel was told, and she went off sick for five months with anxiety and depression caused by safety at work fears.

The tribunal heard that during this time, Mrs Daisy complained about M&S’ ‘lack of action’ over the incidents and that she still felt ‘vulnerable’ being in store.

She was then sacked after M&S concluded there were no adjustments that could be made to facilitate her return to work, so she launched a claim for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.

Deborah Daisy successfully sued M&S for sacking her when she went off sick for five months after confronting a maskless shopper at the Teesside store where she worked (pictured above)

Mrs Daisy has now won her claim with the panel concluding she should have been told the outcome of investigations into her personal safety issues and the company had hidden behind the guise of GDPR constraints.

Additionally, a judge was ‘surprised’ by M&S’ failure to explore options that could resolve her problems given it is a ‘well-resourced retailer’.

‘Loyal and hardworking’ Mrs Daisy joined the firm in April 2015 and worked part time as a customer assistant at the Teesside Park branch, Stockton-on-Tees.

The hearing, held in Leeds, was told she went off work due to ‘high levels’ of anxiety and ‘severe’ depression in January 2021 after she confronted a shopper who refused to wear a mask.

During an ill-health meeting the following month, the panel heard Mrs Daisy’s anxiety and depression were caused by the pandemic in general but referred to that specific incident. Adjustments were discussed to facilitate her coming back.

The tribunal was told two occupational health reports were made and she was deemed unfit to work, with her return unlikely in the foreseeable future.

The panel heard: ‘Her history would suggest that she could be revisiting distressing thoughts and feelings from the armed robbery or other incidents where she felt under threat.

‘This is likely to be impacting on why she doesn’t currently feel safe in work despite strict Covid preventions measures in place.

Mrs Daisy said the confrontation with a maskless shopper was ‘traumatic’. Pictured: Shoppers wearing face masks. There is no suggestion that any of those pictured confronted Mrs Daisy

‘It is likely the anxiety around Covid safety is exacerbated by some unresolved issues from the past and could include the armed robbery and issues she alluded to in the past.’

The panel heard investigations were carried out by M&S into Mrs Daisy’s concerns, however she was not told of the result due to ‘vague’ GDPR reasons.

In April, Mrs Daisy was warned her continued absence could result in her being sacked if she was incapable to return to work, the tribunal was told.

Matters had not improved by the following month, as the panel heard thinking about work sent her anxiety ‘through the roof’ and she felt ‘vulnerable in store’.

The tribunal was also told that in a meeting about her absence, Mrs Daisy said she felt M&S had not ‘acted and dealt with abusive customers appropriately’.

‘Most of the fourth consultation was taken up by [Mrs Daisy] complaining about the lack of action over the incidents she had referred to previously as happening to her at the store and making her feel vulnerable…

‘It is clear from the content of the discussion at the fourth consultation that these are the matters that [she] is stating are preventing her from returning to work,’ the tribunal heard.

In June that year she was fired, which she unsuccessfully appealed.

Mrs Daisy then took M&S to the employment tribunal which found she should have been told the result of the investigations and that M&S had only shared the information with her after she was sacked.

Employment Judge Timothy Knowles concluded: ‘It was in my conclusion outside of the band of reasonable responses which might have been adopted by an employer acting reasonably to dismiss without sharing the findings about the issues she had raised in relation to her personal safety and engaging with [Mrs Daisy] about how her personal safety fears may be addressed in future….

‘I am surprised that those matters were not explored with [her] given that [Marks and Spencer Plc] is a well-resourced retailer in the UK and given that the plight of shopworkers and the abuse they suffer at work is generally well known.’

Mrs Daisy will be awarded compensation in due course, however this will be reduced by 25 per cent as the tribunal found it was likely she would have eventually been dismissed in any event.

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