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Understanding the Difference between Honest Staff Mistakes and Negligence – Reflections of a Reluctant Landlady

When running a business every detail counts, and the difference between an honest staff mistake and negligence can be stark, with serious consequences not only for customers but also for business reputations and operational integrity. Today, I want to discuss two real-life scenarios from my hospitality business that illustrate these differences and underscore the critical importance of diligence and accountability in our industry.


Case Study 1: An Honest Staff Mistake with Serious Potential Consequences


One memorable incident was a well-intentioned purchase of breakfast cereal which could have resulted in a catastrophic situation. A staff member, while restocking breakfast supplies, accidentally purchased Honey Nut Cornflakes instead of the regular Cornflakes. Unaware of this change, we failed to update our allergen information. Consequently, we were informed by a customer that their child with a severe nut allergy had an allergic reaction, thankfully mild, but it highlighted a significant oversight.


The parents were very vocal and indignant, and reported us to Environmental Health. I understood their reasons but was disappointed we had not been able to resolve the issue directly with them. I was further perplexed when I saw the child eating peanuts with her parents at a bar table later that day showing that even a doubtful allegation could lead to dire consequences.


We had an official visitor later who fortunately was happy with our food management processes and understood that it was a genuine mistake.


We also implemented a technical solution – an app which listed all the food items that we permitted and restricted staff from ordering any other items.


Case Study 2: Negligence Despite Clear Instructions


Another instance that brought to light the importance of following through with specific guest requests involved a clear directive regarding room preparation. A customer, allergic to feathers, specifically requested feather-free pillows. Despite multiple reminders to the venue manager, the request was overlooked.


The guest ended up with a red, swollen cheek and spent a restless night in discomfort, which not only affected her experience but our profits as we gave her a full refund and apology.  We were fortunate that she accepted both and did not leave poor reviews or take any other action.


The fact that I had reminded the manager to implement the request on 3 separate occasions led me to take disciplinary action against the manager because of her failure to follow a reasonable instruction and her breach of our health and safety procedures. Whilst I could have taken the first scenario to discipline, I chose instead to use it as a learning point for both the employee and for our business processes.


Conclusion: The Thin Line Between Mistake and Negligence


We are all human, and staff mistakes happen, but some have very serious consequences. In my 30 years’ experience of working in HR, I have had to take disciplinary action occasionally for serious mistakes, particularly where H&S breaches are involved, and even though it was an honest mistake.


If an employee makes lots of mistakes, it could be that a capability process should be followed, but if it has serious consequences it is permissible to take disciplinary action, even dismissal.  However, it is still essential to follow a fair process in line with the ACAS Code of Practice otherwise you could end up in an employment tribunal.


If you want to see an important precedent, you can read about a pilot making a dangerous landing and being dismissed here.


These examples show that while mistakes can happen, the line between an honest error and negligence is defined by how avoidable the mistake could have been. In hospitality, our commitment to guest safety and satisfaction should guide every decision we make. By learning from these incidents, we can improve our processes, enhance guest experiences, and mitigate risks, thereby upholding the high standards the hospitality industry demands.


Ensuring thorough training, clear communication, and a culture of accountability are essential steps in safeguarding against similar issues in the future. Why not learn from my painful scenarios to ensure that your guests always leave with positive memories.


Read more of my blogs by visiting www.catalystcoaches.org/blog.




A couple in bed in a hotel room.  The man is fast asleep, however, the women is sat up, restless and has a very red cheek.
AI Impression of the Incident


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