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The Most Expensive Pizza Ever? Probably!

Probably the most expensive pizza ever.
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Managing Director

Human Resources exists to provide a framework for managing the Employee Lifecycle. As employees are an integral part of a business's success - or failure - good HR practices will contribute to the growth of the organisation. Get those practices wrong though, and it could cost you dearly.

I spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to let your staff members know they are valued, their contribution is purposeful and their efforts are appreciated. Apart from being good HR practice, an effective strategy for building a happy and more productive team, I also happen to genuinely mean it. After all, people make the difference .

So, when this particular story hit the headlines recently, I felt motivated to pass comment, both from the point of view of a business owner, but also as a Fellow of the CIPD for whom it’s all about the people.

This story is two-fold – there is the aspect of our responsibility to how to provide a safe environment for our staff. There is also the procedural issue which in this case, the company in question seems to have got half right, and then very badly wrong.

The background story:

Malgorzata Lewicka recently won a £23, 079 award at a tribunal as compensation for injury to feelings as well as loss of earnings.

Ms Lewicka is a single mother who started working as a receptionist, part-time, for a car dealership, Hartwell Ford Watford, in May 2014. In November 2016, she was moved to the Hemel Hempstead site whilst the Watford dealership underwent a rebuild. She was there until April 2018.

In March 2018, whilst at the Hemel Hempstead store, Miss Lewicka submitted a formal complaint against her Manager, Mark Benson, in relation to her rate of pay, her working hours and claiming sexual harassment.

Although the sexual harassment claim was dismissed due to being outside of the limitation period for litigation (akin to a statute of limitations), the Tribunal discovered at the time, Benson had been investigated, was found to have committed gross misconduct and was issued with a final written warning. The tribunal also found in two Hartwell employees would not speak to Lewicka as a result of the protected disclosure she had made again Benson. They also found one of them had put the phone down on Lewicka “on many occasions” which amounted to victimisation.

Subsequently, Miss Lewicka was excluded from the monthly company lunch; a pizza, fish and chips or other fast-food order that took place the last Friday. Whilst all the other members of staff were asked for their order or if they wanted to participate, she was not. The tribunal judge was later to declare this “part of a campaign of victimization” which included treatment such as her colleagues not speaking to her or putting the phone down if she answered the call.

Lewicka had lodged her complaints at the Hemel Hemstead store. She also provided evidence that at this store, a manager went around the site taking lunch orders and she WAS included. At the Watford store, Hartwell claimed she wasn’t asked because she worked part-time and finished at 1pm. She was, however, excluded from “Pizza Friday” at the Watford store where her hours were the same. A Manager at the Watford store told the tribunal, ‘pizza Friday’ lunches were “informal and ad hoc”, without a specific date, and suggested the reason for Lewicka’s exclusion was because she finished at 1pm and her colleagues took lunch between 1pm and 2pm.

In the summer of 2018, Hartwell Ford Watford decided Lewicka’s role should be carried out full time. In February 2019, Lewicka was made redundant. The tribunal found Hartwell had not given thought to her personal circumstances as a single mother, nor had they given “open-minded assessment” or “considerations to alternatives” other than redundancy. She was the only part-time employee selected for redundancy. The tribunal agreed, Miss Lewicka “suffered less favourable treatment than a comparable full-time worker” following her complaint.

It also criticised Hartwell’s management of having a “fixed mindset” that would not accommodate part-time service advisers, a decision the Judge described as “discriminatory”.

Those who know me or who attend the Weekly HR Forum I host, will know how I’m a stickler for process. The grievance procedure should be spelt out clearly in the staff handbook and should be followed to the letter to avoid future accusations of unfair practice. The process begins when the manager is initially made aware there is a problem and continues through the investigation and beyond. The process should remain confidential, treatment of the employee making the complaint should be monitored as any mistreatment or actions that could be interpreted as victimisation will open the door for further complaint, possibly, as in this case, leading to a tribunal.

The actions of managers and the senior leadership team set the tone for the whole company. Apart from the very real distress caused to Miss Lewicka, it seems clear here certain members of staff were acting directly as retaliation on behalf of Benson which should have been picked up on by senior management and discouraged in the strongest terms. Allowing this behaviour becomes toxic and pervasive leading to a disconnect between management and staff. This type of atmosphere usually results in high levels of staff turnover negatively impacting productivity and necessitating continuous hiring and training. It all starts to get very expensive. As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric once said: “HR is important in good times, HR is defined in hard times”.

At £23, 079, I’d say that was probably the most expensive pizza ever!

ASL Recruitment was established in 1999 and has been serving Hastings and the surrounding area ever since placing temporary and permanent roles across a variety of sectors including Industrial and Manufacturing, Legal, Finance, Marketing, Technology and Office Support, from junior up to board level. Our co-founder and Managing Director, Jason Perry is an HR specialist and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. For further information on our recruitment or consultancy services, email  [email protected] or call us on 01424 452999.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric and management guru, sums up the new role of HRM: “Get out of the parties and birthdays and enrollment forms.… Remember, HR is important in good times, HR is defined in hard times”