An Aldi branch manager who claimed he was forced out from his job after his stores started underperforming has been awarded £26,000 following a tribunal hearing.
Barry Williams had worked for the budget supermarket for 10 years and had previously been drafted in to help turned around stores that weren't doing well.
He also had an “excellent employment record” up until events which saw him caught up in a disciplinary investigation.
The tribunal heard Mr Williams only remained "well-regarded" by his bosses until around 2018, when the performance of his stores dropped.
Mr Williams – who said he "loved his job" – eventually resigned without notice in February 2019, after a decade working for Aldi.
Barry Williams told the tribunal he loved his job
But it was argued that he well out of favour with bosses
Mark Waugh Manchester Press Phot)
The tribunal heard Mr Williams had been accused of misconduct – but it had been argued that the allegations involved practice that was "widely ignored" by Aldi bosses if a store was performing well.
Mr Williams had been accused of hiding price cards above shelves where product lines had run out, to hide the fact he had not ordered enough stock.
But the hearing was told this was the kind of practice Aldi "turned a blind eye" to if performance was good.
He had also been accused of changing staff clocking off times to avoid breaching Working Time Regulations.
The tribunal was told Aldi failed to perform an objective investigation into this.
Mr Williams claimed Aldi used the incidents as an excuse to force him out and said he was under immense pressure in his job.
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In a written judgement, Employment Judge Dawn Shotter said: "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 a massive pressure to perform well on the key performance indicators particularly store productivity, inventory and availability which transmuted into sales."
Mr Williams was confronted by his area manager, Peter Seddon, in October 2018, and admitted he had deliberately hidden price cards to improve his store’s performance.
He had initially denied this accusation but eventually admitted he "did not feel safe in his job".
The tribunal heard Mr Williams promised Mr Seddon he would not do it again and they agreed "that was the end of the matter".
However, Mr Seddon included the price cards incident in a misconduct allegation, alongside the accusations of changing clocking off times.
The tribunal concluded that Mr Seddon, in conclusion with fellow senior manager Mathew Lipscombe, were "looking to exit the claimant out of the business" because Mr Lipscombe believed he was "one of the worst performers".
It was ruled 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: "One way or another, whether it be through performance management or misconduct the claimant’s exit out of the business was inevitable."
He continued: "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 concluded 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.
Mr Williams was awarded a total of £26,180 for unfair dismissal.
She wrote: "The claimant had been employed for 10 years with an excellent employment record until the events which led to his resignation, and he knew that whilst his actions were against the rules, the respondent would chose to ignore them if it suited it i.e. if the claimant and the store he managed were good performers.
"The Tribunal discussed awarding a higher percentage reduction, which it would have done had it not been for the particular circumstances of this case including the amount of pressure put on the claimant.
"The respondent was in fundamental breach of he implied term of trust and confidence and a 100% reduction sought by the respondent is inappropriate and was not just and equitable taking into account all of the circumstances."
A spokesperson for Aldi told Liverpool Echo : “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."