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The World’s Worst Customer And An Employment Tribunal

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Is the customer always right?

If you’ve ever worked in the service, hospitality or retail industry you’ll probably disagree!

How can any customer be right when the “world’s worst customer” shouts, swears and ‘offers you outside’ for a fight?

Garry Hardy, a 60-year-old store manager at Topps Tiles, had the misfortune to serve a “large, loud and aggressive” man demanding a  discount.

The customer was said to have been foul-mouthed and “increasingly aggressive”. Mr Hardy (who suffered from depression) was invited ‘outside’ for what the tribunal (in Newcastle upon Tyne) was told was a desire to “escalate the situation into a physical altercation” and told he and his staff couldn’t organise the proverbial  “party with lots of drink in a brewery”.

The customer made comments about himself being “world’s worst customer” and Mr Hardy and a female colleague agreed that he was a “nightmare”  and more threats, swearing and insults were hurled at the staff.

Mr Hardy asked the man to leave and whilst holding a mug of tea accidentally splashed a little onto the customer – Hardy, the manager was fired.

Topps Tiles took the simplistic view that the customer is always right, despite Hardy having witnesses in his defence. The tribunal sided with Mr Hardy, concluding Topps Tiles paid no regard to the need for Mr Hardy to stand up to a customer to protect himself from unwarranted abuse and that the customer’s version of events was not sufficiently challenged by company bosses.

The employment judge 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.

Mr Hardy also won his claim that his dismissal was discriminatory (because of his depression) as Topps Tiles did not take it into account when they investigated the incident or when they decided to fire him.

Our Employment team comments:

Customers are important but this case shows the responsibility to act in the manner of a reasonable employer should not be undermined.

The self-confessed “world’s worst customer” put the store manager in an impossible position when faced with a tirade of abuse – and the employer’s knee jerk decision to discipline and dismiss the manager for his provoked reaction will now prove to be costly.

When considering an allegation of misconduct, there is always an obligation for the employer to undertake a fair, thorough and impartial investigation to gather all of the facts. This includes giving a balanced view of all of the information gathered, before making a determination. Without its close eye for detail when challenging the customer’s story, they failed to uncover the exaggeration behind the customer’s complaint.

While Topps Tiles may have retained the custom of this difficult individual, the decision to react in haste unfairly overruled the employee’s instinctive reaction to protect himself and his colleagues – so for now, the employer waits to hear of the financial repercussions that follow.

Jennie Jahina


Jennie Jahina


Jennie is a Partner and Head of the Employment team.  A member of the Employment Lawyers Association, Jennie has 21 years’ experience and is an accredited CEDR Mediator. She acts for private sector organisations ranging from SMEs to multi-national companies and public sector organisations.