A relative of mine works for a large supermarket chain. I probably shouldn’t name them, but let’s just say you would know who they are and you have probably spent money there. Anyway, the customer facing staff have recently been set some ‘requirements’ regarding smiling. It might be an exaggeration to say it’s a quota, but they are being monitored and if they are not seem to be smiling in sufficient quantities then they are required to attend a meeting with management in which they are ‘counselled’ on their lack of face twitching activity. Now, I know a little about the employment practises of this organisation, and I am tempted to say if they treated their staff a little better then they might have something to smile about. Or they could go really mad and employment some actual HR experts rather than making ‘personnel’ managers out of people formerly in charge of the deli or the grocery section (practising HR is a little different to working out how many melons you are going to need tomorrow, IMHO, although perhaps others may disagree).
It did get me thinking about this from an employment law perspective though. Is smiling a reasonable management request? Probably, as there are presumably business reasons for the request linked to customer experience. So it follows that if the request is reasonable, an employee could be disciplined for a failure to follow it. So if you can be disciplined for it, then could you be fairly dismissed for it?
For a dismissal to be fair there has to be a potentially fair reason for the dismissal, of which one is conduct, so we are across that hurdle. Then it has to be established that the decision to dismiss was within the band of reasonable responses for the employer to take. The band of reasonable response test goes back to 1982 and Iceland Frozen Foods V Jones. Much case law has followed, but none on smiling as far as I am aware. The test gives employers a reasonably wide discretion (too wide for most trade unions) as the tribunal can’t consider whether they think the decision is reasonable, only whether or not the decision to dismiss was a reasonable response which a reasonable employer could have taken.
So, would it be the action of a reasonable employer to dismiss an employee because they are a bit of a misery guts? What do you think?