Sky Sales Advisor who gave customers his personal mobile number wins unfair dismissal claim

30th March 2023

An employee who was sacked for sending a customer’s details to a colleague using his personal mobile phone has successfully claimed unfair dismissal, even though he admitted wrongdoing.  Why did the employer lose at the tribunal?

Mr Hagan, the Claimant, had been employed by Sky as a sales adviser since August 2017.

In September 2019, the Claimant’s grandmother, who lived in Ghana and also looked after his son, died.  He made plans to travel to attend her funeral.  It later transpired that between 23 October 2018 and 19 September 2019 the Claimant had made 97 calls to Ghana using devices owned by Sky.  He was issued with a final written warning for breaching Sky’s acceptable use policy.  The Claimant did not appeal against the written warning and subsequently reimbursed Sky for the cost of those international calls which totalled £1,033.84.

In March 2020, another Sky employee made several allegations about the Claimant, including the fact that he had given customers his personal mobile number and was keeping customers’ contact details on his phone.  As this was a potential breach of Sky’s data protection policy, another disciplinary investigation was launched.  When the Claimant admitted sending a text with a customer’s details to a colleague via his personal mobile he was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing on 4 June 2020.  However, this was put on hold because the Claimant provided Sky with a fit note from his GP and was then signed off long-term sick.

The Claimant then didn’t hear from Sky until 5 November 2020, some five months after its investigation had been started.  At this point, the Claimant was invited to attend a new disciplinary hearing which was held remotely on 24 November 2020. Thereafter, the Claimant was dismissed for breaching Sky’s data protection policies.

The Claimant claimed unfair dismissal and has now won his claim at the tribunal even though he had admitted wrongdoing.  Although Sky could rely on this admission, it lost because it couldn’t sufficiently explain the five-month delay in rearranging the disciplinary hearing or its failure to contact the Claimant during that time.

What does this mean for employers conducting disciplinary processes when employees are off work sick?

An employee being signed off sick doesn’t mean that disciplinary proceedings must grind to a halt.  Where sickness absence is, or is likely to be, long term employers must balance the business need to conclude the disciplinary process promptly against the employee’s need to recover their health.

Whilst Sky was probably right to postpone the initial disciplinary hearing when Mr Hagan’s fit note was received, it should have taken steps to finalise that process as quickly as possible. In this situation, it is best to offer the employee options for holding the disciplinary hearing, e.g. remotely or in a neutral location, and make it clear that the process will continue in the best interests of both parties.

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Read the full decision in Mr C Hagan v Sky Retail Stores Ltd: 2300507/2021 – Reserved Judgment.