Aldi store boss under ‘unbearable pressure’ gets £26k for unfair dismissal

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Barry Williams “loved his job” and was once so well thought-of he was drafted in to help turn round underperforming stores for the discount retail giant. His employment tribunal heard Mr Williams opened a new branch in Norris Green, Liverpool, but he only remained “well-regarded” by his employers until around 2018, when the performance of his stores dropped.

A disciplinary investigation accused Mr Williams of hiding price cards above shelves where product lines had run out, to hide the fact he had not ordered enough stock.

But this was the kind of practice that a judge found, on the balance of probabilities, Aldi “turned a blind eye” to if performance was good.

Mr Williams was also accused of changing staff clocking off times to avoid breaching Working Time Regulations – but the tribunal heard Aldi failed to perform an objective investigation.

Amid the accusations, Mr Williams eventually resigned without notice on February 26, 2019, after 10 years at Aldi.

Mr Williams claimed Aldi used the incidents as an excuse to force him out and, as Liverpool Echo reports, the tribunal awarded the man £26,180 for unfair dismissal.

Alid has said it is “very dissapointed” with the decision.

Employment Judge Dawn Shotter said Mr Williams was sometimes put under “unbearable pressure” at the Norris Green branch.

In a written judgement, she added: “It was [Aldi’s] culture to put a lot of pressure on managers.

“Unbearable pressure was sometimes placed by the store area manager, who were also under similar pressure, on store managers.

“All were under massive pressure to perform well on the key performance indicators particularly store productivity, inventory and availability which transmuted into sales.”

The hearing was told Mr Williams was confronted by his area manager, Peter Seddon, in October 2018 and, after initially denying the accusation, he eventually admitted he “did not feel safe in his job” and had deliberately hidden the price cards to improve his store’s performance.

Mr Williams promised Mr Seddon he would not do it again and they agreed “that was the end of the matter”.

However Mr Seddon reneged on that agreement and included the price cards incident in a misconduct allegation, alongside the alleged changing of clocking off times.

Judge Shotter wrote: “One way or another, whether it be through performance management or misconduct the claimant’s exit out of the business was inevitable.”

The tribunal concluded that the price cards allegation had been lumped in with the working times allegation because neither of them alone would have been likely to warrant dismissal.

Judge Shotter wrote: “The Tribunal found on the balance of probabilities that if a store manager was performing well, the removal of price cards was ignored, but if there were performance issues and the store was struggling, removing store cards would be used together with other allegations of underperformance/misconduct to either dismiss a store manager or the mechanism by which a confidential compromise agreement would be reached.

“Store managers are well-paid for the pressure they are put under, ‘Aldi isn’t for everyone being such a demanding job’ and if the store manager was struggling the directors employed by the first respondent would raise issues ranging from historic non-performance, absence and sickness levels, stock availability and staff complaints as it had done in the case of the claimant.

“If a store manager and the store were performing ‘directors turned a blind eye if the store was performing for them.”

Judge Shotter found that Mr Williams’ conduct and underperformance had contributed to his exit from the business, but decided his conduct only warranted a 20% reduction in the compensation awarded.

A spokesperson for Aldi said: “Aldi is an inclusive employer and will not tolerate discrimination in any form.

“We are therefore very disappointed with the tribunal’s decision, and will now take the time to consider the ruling carefully before deciding whether any further action is necessary.”

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