One of my salon owner clients has an established and successful business. She invests in training and would be seen as a “good employer”. She had not previously had any major staff issues and assumed this was her reward for “looking after the team”. Sadly, she was mistaken.
One of her staff told her she had overheard a colleague offering to treat a client at home, which effectively meant she was stealing customers from the salon. Having obtained some advice, the salon owner interviewed other members of staff, one of whom confided that they had seen the colleague erase a customer from the book saying, “that’s one for me”.
The owner already routinely asked friends to visit the salon and give her independent feedback as “mystery shoppers”. Following the new incident, a visit was hurriedly arranged and, by chance, the therapist under suspicion took the booking. At the end of the appointment, the client said she liked the treatment but couldn’t afford to rebook. The therapist told her she could “treat her at home more cheaply”, adding that she was steadily building up her client base before leaving.
The therapist was suspended and invited to an investigative interview, where she and her representative were extremely hostile. The representative insisted on taping the interview. The employee denied any wrongdoing and questioned the salon owner regarding her actions, implying that it was underhand to send in the mystery shopper. A disciplinary hearing was arranged and the therapist was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.
At her appeal, she asked for specific evidence of clients that had been poached. She claimed her colleagues had lied because they wanted her job and her clients, and that the salon owner had “wanted rid of her”. Her representative aggressively argued that the evidence of the “spy” should be disregarded.
There were threats of solicitors and the employer began to worry. However, she was reminded that for her decision to be considered fair, she only had to believe the employee was guilty and have reason for that belief, which she had.
To their credit, the salon owner and her staff attended the subsequent employee tribunal hearing and repeated what they had seen and heard. The mystery shopper also attended.
When asked to declare the extent of her losses following her dismissal, the former employee was reluctant and it was suggested this was because there weren’t any as she had immediately become self-employed.
The employment judge advised that she found the dismissal fair and said the salon owner had meticulously followed her disciplinary procedure. She was clearly of the view that the therapist had been poaching clients and had suficient reason to reach that conclusion. The staff had been willing to give evidence and there was nothing wrong with the use of the mystery shopper.
Key factors in the success
• The employees had contracts of employment, salon rules and a disciplinary procedure
• The disciplinary procedure was followed to the letter; there were notes of every meeting
• Statements from staff were taken immediately and signed
• The use of a mystery shopper was seen as wholly permissible. PB
David Wright is a consultant in all aspects of employment practice and law. He is the main employment law consultant for Habia and provides a personalised support service for UK salons.
Tel: 01302 563691 davidwrightpersonnel.co.uk