Waitrose worker wins £50,000 after being sacked for ‘joke’ texting

Waitrose trolleys are seen at a shop in Harpenden as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Harpenden, Britain March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

Mohammed Zahangir Kabir worked for Waitrose for almost two decades (Image: Reuters)

A supermarket worker has been awarded £50,000 in compensation after being sacked for texting his boss a ‘joke’ about a knife.

Mohammed Zahangir Kabir moved to the UK from Bangladesh in 2002 and worked as a sales assistant in South Woodford Waitrose, east London, for over 17 years.

He had a merry relationship with assistant team manager Matthew Ford, which prompted him to post the message on July 20: “I found a knife,” a labor court heard.

When his boss asked him what he meant, Mr Kabir sent him four heart-eyed smiley face emojis and asked, “Are you scared?”

He then went on to ask when he would be done that day and when they would see each other next.

The next day, Mr Ford told his bosses that he was “terrified” and feared Mr Kabir would show up at the store with a knife.

When Mr. Kabir arrived for his shift at 7:00 pm, he found a policeman waiting for him.

An “extremely nervous” Mr Kabir did not have a knife with him and told the officer he did not want to threaten his colleague.

The officer accepted that he meant no malice to Mr. Ford and took no further action.

‘[Mr Kabir] was also now aware that Mr. Ford had taken the messages seriously. [He] decided to apologize to Mr Ford to assure him that he did not mean to harm him and that he had no intention of upsetting him,” the tribunal heard.

In response to a text message from his colleague apologizing, Mr Ford replied: “No problem kabir, I was a little worried when you wrote something was taken out of context. Very serious and worrisome conversations need little caution’, along with a thumbs up emoji.

FILE PHOTO: Branding on a staff member's uniform is seen at Waitrose's Canary Wharf store in London January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo

Despite his release by the authorities, Mr Kabir was then fired on charges of serious misconduct (Image: Reuters)

No formal complaint was made but an investigation into possible wrongdoing was launched and Mr Kabir was summoned to a meeting.

He reiterated that the messages had been sent as a joke and that he intended to tell his boss that he had found a knife while cooking a meal for his two children.

Although the two men were known to be friends and called each other ‘pals’, Waitrose decided there was a case of serious misconduct as certain phrases such as ‘I’ve got a knife’ and ‘Are you scared’ were found to be intimidating.

The father of two was then released for serious misconduct.

However, the Labor Court ruled that the messages contained “no actual threat” and Waitrose “placed too much weight” on Mr Ford’s reaction.

Labor judge Julia Jones concluded: “There was no actual threat in the messages. They made no sense, but that didn’t mean they were threatening.

“By the judgment of this tribunal [Mr Kabir] had behaved recklessly. He’d sent his manager a few silly, random text messages without even thinking about how they might be received.

Mr Kabir was awarded £47,192.90 in compensation for unfair and wrongful dismissal from Waitrose parent company John Lewis.

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Justin Scacco

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