Tesco has been ordered to pay compensation of €15,000 to a worker who said he was forced to quit because of a “campaign of bullying” by a store manager.
Frank O’Dwyer told the tribunal he had been singled out, shouted at and berated by his boss over a period of ten months following Christmas 2018, when he was transferred into the supermarket from the petrol station.
He said it culminated with him being physically assaulted on the shop floor by the manager.
His claim of constructive dismissal under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 was upheld by the Workplace Relations Commission in a ruling just published.
Mr O’Dwyer, who had worked for the supermarket since 2007, said difficulties first arose in 2015 when he refused an order to “manipulate” the supermarket’s clubcard system by putting points on to a blank card for the manager.
Mr O’Dwyer’s position was that the store manager “inferred” after this incident that he would “exact revenge on him” — which he said started when he was transferred from the store’s petrol station to the main premises in 2018.
That Christmas, he said, he was assigned to working on checkouts during the busiest period instead of working the duties of a team leader, which he said were performed by a general assistant instead.
In spring and summer of 2019, he said he was “singled out” by the store manager over issues involving trolleys at the store — treatment he said was “part of [a] broader campaign of bullying against him”.
This included the store manager reprimanding Mr O’Dwyer for carrying his mobile phone on the shop floor even though team leaders and supervisors were permitted to do so; Mr O’Dwyer being “berated” by the manager over cardboard boxes being left in view while he was carrying out other duties, and being blamed for a customer walking off with €65 worth of groceries without paying, the complainant said.
After this third incident in August 2019, the store manager told him: “I’m going to have a performance review done of you with a view to demoting you as team leader,” Mr O’Dwyer told the tribunal
Just days later, on 18 August, Mr O’Dwyer said a drunk customer verbally abused him, threatening to “beat him up some night when he least expected it”.
When he spoke to the store manager about the incident, his boss replied that his “only concern was for the store’s sales targets”, Mr O’Dwyer said, which he said was an illustration of the man’s “complete disregard” for him.
On 2nd September, Mr O’Dwyer said he asked his boss at a meeting what he could do to “prevent the constant barrage of criticisms, arguments and complaints”.
The store manager replied that they “did not argue but that they debated and that if [Mr O’Dwyer] was not able for the debates, then he was not able for the job”.
Mr O’Dwyer told the tribunal he was urged by the store’s deputy manager to resign as team leader during a review meeting on 5th September, adding that he thought the store manager was behind the request.
He said the following day he was physically assaulted by the manager while opening up checkouts for till assistants during a busy period.
Mr O’Dwyer said the store manager “came from behind ... grabbed his arm and while pushing him forward told him aggressively to get another staff member off the computer and on to the checkout”.
He said the assault left him feeling humiliated.
Later, he said he was made aware by the deputy manager that colleagues had written letters of complaint against him and formed the view that the store manager had encouraged these letters too.
Mr O’Dwyer said he “could not take any more of the treatment he had been subjected to” and was signed off on sick leave before resigning from Tesco in July, 2021.
An Irish Business Employers Confederation (Ibec) representative who appeared for Tesco Ireland said Mr O’Dwyer had lodged a grievance in December 2019 alleging that he had been subjected to “unacceptable behaviour in the workplace by the store manager”.
The matter was investigated by the supermarket’s area manager in 2020, with some 13 witnesses interviewed, but ultimately Mr O’Dwyer’s allegations were not upheld.
An internal appeal upheld some points of appeal but did not overturn the “substantive” findings, it was submitted.
Mr O’Dwyer turned down a transfer to another store and ultimately “chose not to engage” with a mediation process and decided instead to resign on 21st May, 2021, the Ibec representative added.
Tesco eventually accepted his resignation that July, the tribunal heard.
In his decision, adjudicating officer Breiffni O’Neill noted that the store manager did not attend the hearing and that Tesco had presented no direct evidence rebutting the bullying allegations or showing the store manager’s awareness of the firm’s policies on bullying and harassment.
He wrote that Mr O’Dwyer’s evidence had been “wholly credible” and that the bullying he outlined had been “sufficiently intolerable and injurious to his health as to constitute a significant breach of the employment contract”.
The supermarket manager had “repeatedly undermined and humiliated” his subordinate, Mr O’Neill wrote, adding that it was “unacceptable” that the manager had “placed his hand on the complainant” in the incident of 6 September 2019.
He added that Tesco Ireland had acted unreasonably by failing to uphold Mr O’Dwyer’s allegations against the store manager and that the complainant had met the legal test for a case of constructive dismissal.
He awarded Mr O’Dwyer €15,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal.