Shop manager wrongly fired for ‘throwing tea’ over ‘world’s worst customer’
A shop manager fired after he was accused of throwing his cup of tea over the ‘world’s worst customer’ has won his case for unfair dismissal.
Garry Hardy, 60, was let go from his long-standing role at Topps Tiles Sunderland after an altercation with an ‘aggressive man’ who came in to complain about an order, a tribunal heard.
Mr Hardy stepped in when the ‘large, loud’ man started berating a colleague and demanding a discount.
The angry customer accused them of being unable to ‘organise a p*** up in a brewery’ before Mr Hardy asked him to leave and gestured while holding his cup of tea – ‘accidentally’ splashing the customer in the face.
The customer later complained, accusing the manager of subjecting him to a ‘torrent of abuse’ and hurling the drink in his face.
Topps Tiles fired Mr Hardy, believing the customer’s version of events over their employee’s.
But a tribunal in Newcastle-upon-Tyne sided with the former manager as it ruled the company should have paid more regard to the need for him to stand up to the customer and protect himself from unwarranted abuse.
The hearing was told the man’s behaviour became ‘increasingly aggressive’ over the course of the interaction.
Mr Hardy tried to explain that his delivery was not late as he had claimed, to which the customer responded ‘f*** this, I’ll get a f***ing refund,’ before adding it was ‘f***ing ridiculous’ and he had ‘never known this much trouble’.
The customer then asked Mr Hardy to go out to the car park with him ‘intending to escalate the situation into a physical altercation’ but Mr Hardy managed to calm him down slightly, the tribunal heard.
Once both men returned to the shop, Mr Hardy explained the price of some tiles to the customer who then called him a ‘f***ing a***hole’. To this, Mr Hardy replied ‘I’m not trying to be an a***hole’.
At the counter, the man then asked for his tiles and said ‘apparently I’m the world’s worst customer’.
When Mr Hardy responded that he was indeed a ‘nightmare’ and a female colleague agreed, the man retorted: ‘F***ing hell, this is the worst customer service I’ve received, I’m shocked.’
Mr Hardy went to take a swig of tea when the customer became aggressive once more and called him a ‘f***ing p****.’
At this point Mr Hardy gestured for him to leave the store, using the words ‘f*** off,’ but in doing so the tribunal heard the ‘cup of tea splashed some of its contents over the counter, with a little landing on the customer’s face’.
The hearing was told: ‘The customer wiped his face. He started shouting ‘f***ing b*****d’ and said ‘I can’t believe you have done it’.
He later called Topps Tiles customer services and accused Mr Hardy of ‘kicking off’ when he asked for a discount, threatening him, calling him a ‘p****’ and an ‘a***hole’ before throwing a cup of tea over him.
Despite two of Mr Hardy’s colleagues’ accounts matching with his, Topps Tiles sided with the customer’s version of events and fired Mr Hardy in 2019.
Mr Hardy – who had worked for the company since 2002 – then sued the firm as he felt he had been unfairly dismissed.
The tribunal heard Mr Hardy also suffered from depression which meant he could have difficulty in managing his anger in response to a trigger such as an angry customer.
The tribunal ruled he was unfairly dismissed as the customer’s version of events was not challenged or subjected to any scrutiny.
Employment Judge Sharon Langridge said: ‘No weight was attached to the possibility the customer was making a false or exaggerated pre-emptive complaint, nor to his own admissions of serious verbal abuse.
‘Overall, this appears to be a case where Topps Tiles took the view that the customer is always right, with little or no regard for the need for a store manager to stand up to a customer in order to protect himself or his colleagues from unwarranted abuse.’
A further hearing will now be held to decide how much compensation he will be paid.
A spokesperson for Topps Tiles, said: ‘We are in the process of appealing this ruling and are therefore unable to comment further at this time.’
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