Just like its predecessor, 2021 has been a bizarre year for the people function.
To-ing and froing about returning to the office, then working from home again, alongside a growing list of issues such as work perks, talent retention, the great resignation and the ‘pingdemic’.
However, pandemic aside, there have been many instances where firms have found themselves taken to court by disgruntled employees, relating to incidents which have left HR leaders bemused, confused and shocked in equal measure.
Below, HR Grapevine looks back on some of the most unusual employment tribunal cases of 2021:
HR worker sacked after kicking off over his chicken nugget lunch
An HR advisor was sacked after complaining about the size of his portion of chicken nuggets in the staff canteen, as was reported by The Daily Mail in September.
Steven Smith, an HR worker at Teleperformance, an outsourced partner contact centre in Scotland, was fired after an altercation with a canteen worker over the 'paltry poultry' he was offered for lunch.
Smith, who won a £5,000 pay-out this summer after an employment judge ruled his dismissal was unfair, was reportedly taken aback after ordering chicken nuggets and chips and cheese for £1.99.
The complaining colleague, who served Smith his food, alleged that he questioned the portion size – which was just three nuggets - and was offered an extra three for 99p.
At this point, the tribunal was told, Smith declared he was “not a kid and if he wanted a happy meal he would have gone to McDonalds”. The complainant alleged Smith then “forcefully pushed” the box back at her before “storming off”.
The incident was reported to the HR department and Smith was suspended while an investigation took place, and was subsequently sacked for gross misconduct. However, a Glasgow employment judge later ruled unfair dismissal, after concluding that the evidence presented did not amount to a breach of Smith’s contract, nor that he acted in a violent or aggressive manner.
16-year-old takes employer to tribunal after being told to 'grow up'
Whilst all professionals should moderate the language that they use in the workplace, a recent tribunal launched against an employer ruled that telling a work colleague to ‘grow up’ was found to be not ageist.
The case was brought about by young hairdressing apprentice, Jasmine Stunell, who sued her former boss after the latter told her to ‘grow up’ and ‘pull herself together’, as reported by the Independent.
Stunell was 16 years of age when the allegations arose, and claimed that her boss was guilty of both age discrimination and unfair dismissal. Manager Leo Bancroft allegedly made the comments after the conclusion of Stunell’s three-month probationary period.
However, the panel dismissed the claims after concluding that the remarks ‘could be said to anyone – especially older people’.
Worker blamed dog for exposing 'tight underwear' to female colleague on video call
In October, The Daily Mail reported that a City finance worker was sacked for exposing his 'tight' underwear to a female colleague on a Zoom call – then blamed his pet puppy for the incident
Philip Taylor allegedly lowered his laptop camera 'deliberately' during a work video call, revealing his underpants and parts of his thighs and groin to a shocked female colleague.
The 'distressed' co-worker said it was 'in no way an accident' and that Taylor ‘100% wanted her to see his underwear', a London Central Employment Tribunal heard.
The tribunal also reported that Taylor, a married father, was said to have messaged his colleague on social media saying 'you look like you need sausage'.
When called to a disciplinary hearing following the incident, Taylor gave an 'implausible' explanation about the Zoom incident.
He claimed there had been a 'melee with his puppy', which caused his watch strap to become caught and 'pull down his laptop screen to an angle which revealed his shorts'.
He also claimed he was wearing just his pants due to the hot weather on the day in question.
Taylor’s explanation was not believed, and he was fired from his role. He took his firm to employment tribunal but a judge ruled he was not unfairly dismissed.
Boss 'wanted to bet' on pregnant worker's weight - tribunal awards her £30k
Early September brought the news of a marketing executive whose boss allegedly joked about placing bets on how much weight she would gain while she was pregnant has been awarded £30,000 in damages.
The Times reported that Sally-Anne Shipp told a hearing she was questioned by male colleagues at delivery firm CitySprint over whether her baby had been planned and whether she had stopped using contraception.
Shipp claimed that she was threatened with redundancy while she was on maternity leave and was subsequently sacked because she refused to do the same job under a lesser title for a £20,000 pay cut.
An employment judge ruled that Shipp’s dismissal was unfair and awarded her £30,000 in compensation for maternity and sex discrimination. The court was told that male colleagues at the London business who changed roles did not suffer similar pay cuts.
Worker sacked for drinking in club while off sick
In June, a worker who was fired after he was spotted drinking in a social club while on sick leave has recently won his case at an employment tribunal.
According to experts, the judge’s decision, and the case, highlights the need for ‘robust disciplinary procedures', as well as a need to have ‘appropriate policies in place’.
The BBC reported that Colin Kane was fired by Debmat Surfacing in Ryton, Gateshead, after he was spotted smoking outside a bar in March last year.
Kane, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was found not to have broken the firm’s rules, with Judge Andrea Pitt ruling that the worker had been unfairly dismissed.
As was reported by the BBC, the tribunal heard that Kane was seen by Contracts Manager at Debmat Surfacing, Shaun Johnson, outside a social club near his place of work on 9th March last year.
Kane was said to have told his employers that he had been “bad in bed all day with his chest” via a phone call.
Yet, the worker later denied being at that club on the day in question, despite admitting that he was there the next day.
Elsewhere, the tribunal heard that at a previous disciplinary hearing in March last year, it was stated that Kane had been spotted “several times” smoking and drinking at the club while he was off work.
He was reportedly told: "Surely if you had been unfit for work and on antibiotics, you shouldn't be in the pub."
The tribunal judgement said that he had been fired for a “breach of trust and dishonesty”.
Judge Pitt said: "It was also put to the claimant he should not be in a public house because he was absent through ill health.
"There is nothing in the disciplinary procedure prohibiting an employee from acting in this way."
Elsewhere, the judge pointed towards “flaws” with the employer’s investigation, as well as adding that its disciplinary procedure was below “reasonable employer” standards.