30th Oct 2019

Can the use of plastic cups be a disciplinary offence?

So, Can the use of plastic cups be a disciplinary offence? Well, yes - according to a Sheffield-based company which has made it a disciplinary offence for employees to bring single-use plastic into their office. Single use plastic would include disposable coffee cups with plastic linings, plastic water bottles and sandwich packets.

This employer is changing their employees’ contracts, so they receive a warning for each offence. If they then continue to ignore the new requirement, they could be dismissed. 

While many employers encourage and incentivise more sustainable behaviour among staff and work towards being more eco-friendly, this employer is understood to be the first to reflect this in the employment contract.

Explaining the thinking behind the ban, the company owner said:

I have been driving my staff mad about reducing our environmental impact… They have heard me banging on about turning the lights off, complaining about all the packaging in the bins and wasted paper, lecturing about the environment.”
“We have already provided reusable bottles and staff are now encouraged to use the local sandwich shop and eat in rather than take-out packaging from supermarkets.”

Staff were consulted on ways to improve the company’s environmental footprint and they had already run a trial ban - which was well received.
If staff repeatedly flouted the ban the owner would feel justified in dismissing them, he added, because this would “basically be saying I don’t care about the mentality of this business and what we are trying to do… We have to walk the walk.”
It remains to be seen whether anyone will lose their job and challenge the reasonableness of any decision to dismiss them for such a breach of contract, or for being unfair. 

Employers need to remember that any disciplinary rules need to be clearly set out and a fair disciplinary process should be followed – otherwise, any subsequent dismissal may be unfair.

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