Employment practices at Sports Direct


Employment Solicitor Alex Pearce looks at the recent report on employment practices at Sports Direct.

On 22 July 2016, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee published its report on the employment practices at Sports Direct.

Sports Direct has over 400 stores staffed by employees, on zero-hour contracts and is the largest sporting retailer in the UK. The Company’s headquarters and warehouse is situated in Shirebrook, Derbyshire. There it has 200 permanent employees and over 3,000 agency workers.

The Committee heard a series of accounts of worker mistreatment, including staff being penalised for matters such as taking a short break to drink water and for taking time off work when ill – the ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy.

On 22 July 2016, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee published a highly critical report on its employment practices. In particular, the Committee considered that:

“The way the business model at Sports Direct is operated, in both the warehouse at Shirebrook and in the shops across the country, involves treating workers as commodities rather than as human beings with rights, responsibilities and aspirations. The low-cost products for customers, and the profits generated for the shareholders, come at the cost of maintaining contractual terms and working conditions which fall way below acceptable standards in a modern, civilised economy. There is a risk that this model – which has proved successful for Mr Ashley – will become the norm. We will be considering the full implications of this business model in the context of our broader inquiry into the labour market.” (Paragraph 34.)

The Committee observed that in a well-run company, widespread evidence of poor working practices would be detected at an early stage, reported to the board and properly addressed. Since this did not happen, the Committee recommended that the ongoing review of working practices should be complemented by an independent review of Sports Direct’s corporate governance arrangements.

The reports conclusions can be read here

How to ensure best practice

Alex Pearce comments that there is a lot more that businesses can do to support their staff as well as to ensure responsibilities and legal rights are met. Employers should make sure that they consider and have effective policies as necessary to deal with areas including:

  • Recruitment, Selection and Induction
  • Pay and Reward
  • Performance Management
  • Flexile working and work-life balance
  • Equality and Diversity
  • Communication and Involvement
  • Employee Representation
  • Discipline and Grievance
  • Managing Change

Furthermore, addressing issues at an early stage allows your business to concentrate on growing without unnecessary distraction and with a productive and happy workforce.

More information 

If you need advice on any employment law matter, contact Alex Pearce, in our Employment Law Department for specific advice on alex.pearce@pinneytalfourd.co.uk or call 01708 229444. This article was written by Alex Pearce our Employment Law Associate at Pinney Talfourd Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. The law may have changed since this article was published. This article is based on the law as at August 2016.


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