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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 50483
Experience:  Qualified Employment Solicitor
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I work for Tesco who have a stupid rule about staff buying

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I work for Tesco who have a stupid rule about staff buying their lunch/snacks before eating them. On the surface, it sounds reasonable. However, this can take 10 minutes off your 30 minute break and, in my opinion, is an inefficient rule. I get my lunch, eat it, keep the wrapper in my locker and pay for it later. I've worked there for 5 years and been doing this all that time. Tesco view this as theft. The food hasn't left the store, I always pay for it, how is it theft. I now have an investigation into 'allegations of consuming goods before purchase' and, to be honest, I am bloody furious. I simply refuse to be inefficient for anyone. If Tesco let us add the extra time to our 30 minute break, no problem, but they don't. There is a canteen which isn't open all the time and the area of the store that I work in (checkouts) is at the front, while the staff room is right at the back, some 4 minutes walk away. So a typical 30 minute break might be walk to staff room, discover canteen is shut, swear, get money from locker, walk 4 minutes back to sandwich section, select sandwich, queue to pay, get receipt signed, walk 4 minutes back to staff room, sit and eat food, then check time remaining of break. Surely it's more sensible to cut out the queuing part? If there is a long queue, it can add up to 10 minutes. Anyway, I'd like some advice on how to approach this investigation. I am in usdaw union and attempting to contact a rep to attend this meeting with me. I got the letter yesterday, not sure of the exact time, and the investigation is tomorrow at 1pm. Thank you.
Assistant: Where are you located? It matters because laws vary by location.
Customer: Portsmouth
Assistant: Has anything been filed or reported?
Customer: I presume so as I would not be investigated otherwise.
Assistant: Anything else you want the solicitor to know before I connect you?
Customer: I'm 61, have health issues (diabetes type 2 which means I should have regular breaks) and the length of break depends on length of shift that day. My working week is 2 days, 11.5 hours total. 3-9 pm Thursday (1/2 hr break around 5.30, canteen open) and 1-7.30 pm Saturday (1/2 hr break around 4, canteen shut).

Hello, my name is***** am a qualified lawyer and I will be assisting you with your question today.

So has your manager raised this with you directly and if so, what action do they intend on taking?

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
I have received a letter stating I have to attend an investigation meeting on 20/1/18 at 1pm chaired by Sue Blake who will be accompanied by a company witness/note taker. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss allegations of consuming good (sic) before purchasing.
What action will be determined at that meeting.
I received the letter yesterday about 4.30ish.

OK, thank you for your response. Leave it with me for now and I will review the relevant information and laws and get back to you at the earliest opportunity. There is no need to wait here as you will receive an email when I have responded. Also, please do not respond to this message as it will just push your question to the back of the queue and you may experience unnecessary delays. Thank you.

Many thanks for your patience. I fully agree that this is somewhat of a silly rule to have because as you said you are not actually leaving the premises or have any intention of taking the food without paying for it. However, this is a specific rule which they have put in place and as such you will have to adhere to it, especially if others do and the is no clear disregard of it by management or the general workforce, which has been ignored for a long time by the company.

Being on a break means actually being away from your normal workstation, it does not mean you have to be sitting down and relaxing and doing nothing. So whilst it may not be as much of an effective break as you may expect because you have to queue or deal with sorting out payment for your lunch, legally it is a break because you are not being asked to undertake your duties at tour normal workstation, like a desk or counter or till.

At this stage you are only being i vestigated, you are still presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, after the investigation they could decide to take this to a formal disciplinary hearing. At worst they should issue a warning, to warn you about future breaches of this policy and to remind you that you need to follow it.

If you wanted to challenge them then I suggest the best argument you have is linked to your diabetes, which can amount to a disability in law. In these circumstances the employer will have a duty to make what is known as reasonable adjustments to ensure you are not placed at a disadvantage because of it. So if the lack of proper break means your condition is affected and you are detrimentally affected health-wise, you can ask for dispensation from the rules to ensure that this does not happen. However, you will need to have a solid description of how it affects you, that it is more than just a trivial effect and that these changes are necessary in the circumstances.

I trust this has answered your query. Please take a second to leave a positive rating by selecting 3, 4 or 5 stars above - this is an important part of our process and recognises the time I have spent assisting you. If you still need me to clarify anything else, please reply on here and I will assist as best as I can. Thank you

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