A Poundland store manager was unfairly and wrongfully dismissed when she was fired for allegedly stealing a drink, Norwich Employment Tribunal has ruled.
Miss Stokes was awarded £20,930.48 plus costs after employment judge Postle found that the discount chain had no reasonable basis for its belief of her supposed misconduct and followed a flawed investigation process.
Stokes worked at Poundland from 2009 as an assistant manager and later store manager. She was successful in her role until a new area sales manager joined in 2015.
In June 2017, an area sales manager, Ian Jones, and the acting store manager entered Stokes’ office without warning to investigate an allegation that she had taken drinks from the damaged stock area. She was told that CCTV footage showed her consuming the drinks, although she was only shown a few seconds of her walking with a drink in her hand.
Once Stokes, who was not offered representation, was aware of the allegations, she said she thought they were vexatious and malicious accusations as they had been voiced shortly after she had a performance management meeting with Mr Yallop, an “underperforming” supervisor.
However, the area manager gave “scant regard” to Stokes’ responses and apparently raised no further questions. Full CCTV footage of her taking and consuming the drink was not produced, despite requests.
At her investigation meeting, Stokes mentioned finding some drinks on the shop floor, which were out of date. However, she could not recall walking into the office with a drink, noting that she had been working excessively over the last month – including 55-hour weeks and with no assistant manager – and was “frankly exhausted”.
During an adjournment, Stokes gave Mr Quinton’s name, as he was with her during the alleged incident. She was told to leave while the two managers called him, but no record or statement of the call was produced.
Stokes was suspended and forbidden to contact staff. Jones was to report after further investigations, but none were carried out. No statements were taken from witnesses and no report was produced.
Stokes was then invited to a disciplinary hearing, which needed to be rescheduled as it was “clearly too short notice”.
Stokes lodged a grievance with HR against Yallop, stating that he was malicious and vexatious, and also voiced other concerns that the investigation was unfair and impartial, requesting another.
Although she did not receive a reply, her letters were discussed at her disciplinary hearing. She disagreed with her grievance being part of this hearing. She said Jones was not impartial and sought further investigations, a request that was ignored.
She was also shown for the first time CCTV evidence showing her walking past the camera carrying a drink followed by Quinton, also carrying a bottle. There was no further footage.
The only evidence was an email from Yallop saying he saw the two “with a bottle of drink, one from the four-pack juice we sell” and “put two and two together”, and that he then saw them on CCTV entering the office.
Stokes’ representatives asked questions about till receipts evidence, which was never produced or checked. Mr Hinton, another area sales manager, also revealed that he had not spoken to Quinton “as he looked guilty because he resigned”.
Poundland dismissed Stokes by letter, upholding the theft allegations. She appealed, but this was delayed by a month, then adjourned as the officer lacked papers and needed to further investigate, before being rejected.
The tribunal found that the theft investigation, which should have been “very thorough”, was “flawed” and raised concerns of bias and lack of representation or formal meetings. It also noted that Yallop’s motives for the accusations were likely “malicious and vexatious” given that they were made two hours after a performance management meeting.
The judge also raised concerns around the lack of CCTV evidence, notes of alleged conversations, a damages report and till checks.
The tribunal uplifted Stokes’ award by 15 per cent because of the flawed investigatory meeting, but then reduced it by 10 per cent as she took the drink while being unable to explain the circumstances. As there was no evidence that Stokes breached her contract, she was also entitled to her notice pay.