A TikTok user claims she was sacked from her job for 'not asking enough questions’ and displaying introversive traits.
In a series of two videos, Tesia Covington explained in detail her experience of the onboarding process at a restaurant chain in the US.
Key moments from the videos include claims that Covington told her interviewer she was “a reserved type of person” and that it might take her “a while to warm up to everybody.”
She explained: “I like to give people that notice because people just think that I’m being rude, and I don’t got time for that."
She went on to say that, throughout the training process, she had issues related to being an introvert, one example being when a co-worker complained that she wasn’t asking enough questions - to which she responded her job, of "chopping fruits and vegetables" was a simple one that didn't require much of a learning curve.
She also reported multiple issues related to her being silent instead of vocal on the job, issues which Covington claims eventually led to her being fired.
‘Legal right to be boring’
While the case above highlights a rare example of a worker being singled out for not getting involved with colleagues, a similar situation recently saw a man win a legal case against his former employer after being sacked for not taking part in his company’s team building activities, a victory being dubbed the 'legal right to be boring'.
Consulting firm Cubik Partners dismissed the worker for being “insufficient professionally”, mainly because he didn’t get involved during company outings, which consisted of partying and drinking, and outside of working hours.
Court papers from an employment hearing, which took place in France, found that the events involved “excessive alcoholism encouraged by colleagues who made available very large quantities of alcohol, and practices pushed by colleagues involving promiscuity, bullying and incitement to various excesses".
The employee, identified only as Mr T in legal documents, claimed that he had a right to “refuse company policy based on incitement to partake in various excesses”.
A letter from his employers cited “his disagreement with the management methods of the company and the criticism of their decisions”.
Cubik Partners also claimed that he was a poor listener and difficult to work alongside.
But the court ruled that Mr T “could not be blamed for his lack of integration in the fun environment”.
It was also said that the firm couldn't make him "forcibly participate in meet-ups and weekend drinks that frequently ended up in excessive alcohol intake, harassment by colleagues who made very large quantities of alcohol available."
It was ruled that Mr T had a legal right to refuse to take part in such activities, awarding him more than £2,500 compensation in the process.
Does the law in the UK allow firms to sack workers who aren’t getting along with co-workers?
The incident involving Covington took place in the US, and details are scarce as to what areas of labour laws may have been used. But there’s an important piece of employment law here in the UK that can also be used – albeit controversially – to dismiss employees whose presence could be detrimental to the workplace.
And a recent TikTok video from an HR expert shed light on how this law could have allowed a firm to sack a worker for “being annoying” and “eating loudly”.
Judith Fiddler, who works with employers and employees with their HR and employment law issues, explained that a woman was dismissed from her role after three complaints had come in over the past 18 months at an unnamed firm.
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"The complaints have been things like, she was eating loudly, she was talking incessantly, and she had a lack of self awareness" Fiddler explained of the worker, who had reportedly worked at the unnamed company for five years.
The employment law expert said that "one or two of the complaints alluded to the fact that they would leave if she was still gonna be there because [she] made their work life experience into intolerable".
The company had then chosen to support the people who were threatening to leave over the person who was "allegedly being very annoying" and "a disciplinary process has evolved from there".
Many people in the comments were, understandably, shocked at such a decision, and debated among themselves whether it was legal to simply sack someone because co-workers found them ‘annoying’.
But in a follow-up video, Fiddler shed light on a common yet often controversially-used piece of employment law that was likely used in this scenario.
"The answer is an SOSR dismissal," Fiddler revealed.
SOSR, or ‘some other substantial reason’, is a catch-all term acknowledging that there may occasionally be reasons why it is justifiable and necessary to dismiss an employee in circumstances which don’t fit neatly under one of the other potentially fair categories.
Therefore, as Fiddler told TikTok viewers: "In order for this to count as fair dismissal, an employer needs evidence and proof the situation can’t be fixed, and that everything else has been given a chance."
When should an SOSR dismissal be used?
On the CIPD website, Eleanor Deem, the founder of face2faceHR, explains SOSR and the circumstances in which an employer might apply it:
“Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, there are five potentially fair reasons for dismissal. Dismissing someone for one of these reasons doesn’t necessarily mean the dismissal will be legally fair though, as process and whether the decision was reasonable in the circumstances are also relevant.
“The potentially fair reasons include capability (if the person doesn’t have the skills, ability or qualifications needed), misconduct, redundancy and if continuing employment would be in contravention of a statutory duty or restriction. In addition to these reasons, we also have Some Other Substantial Reason, or SOSR.”
When does SOSR apply?
While it isn’t possible to develop a comprehensive list of SOSR justifications, Deem outlines a handful of reasons which have been found to justify SOSR dismissals, including:
1. Client pressure
“This situation is probably the most common SOSR reason in a small business – if you have an employee working closely with, or on-site at, a client, and that client indicates that they no longer accept working with that member of staff.”
2. Changes to terms and conditions
“If you have good business reasons to change terms and conditions employment and you have staff who refuse to accept them, a SOSR dismissal followed by reengagement on the new terms may be an option.”
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The underhand tactic of fire and rehire would fall into this bracket, as would recent issues like the introduction of office vaccine mandates that some employees may have refused to accept.
3. Risk to reputation of the business
“SOSR may apply if you feel continuing to employ the worker places the reputation of your business at unacceptable risk. This is more likely to be relevant if they are very senior or their role largely involves publicly representing the business.”
4. Breakdown in trust and confidence
“If something has happened that has fundamentally undermined the trust and confidence you have in a member of staff, SOSR may apply, although the type of event which leads to this often sits more naturally under misconduct instead.”
5. Employee relationships breakdown
This point of the SOSR is what would likely have been used in the event of the worker sacked for ‘being annoying’.
Deem writes: “If you have two employees between whose relationship has irretrievably broken down, and this makes continuing to employ them both impossible, SOSR might be fair.”
Determining whether the reason is fair
If you are considering dismissing someone for SOSR, you should make sure the reason is objectively substantial – it must be a fairly big deal, and must be having a significant impact on the organisation.
It also must be a situation where dismissal is the only viable route, and another warning or sanction isn’t possible.
“SOSR can be a very useful catch-all in circumstances where continuing to employ someone just isn’t possible, and this is particularly true in small businesses, where redeployment or similar alternative actions aren’t available as they would commonly be in a bigger organisation,” Deem says, concluding: “However as with any dismissal, caution should be exercised and you should take professional advice before proceeding.”