KPMG fires trainee for gross misconduct

03 July 2020 3 min. read
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The UK wing of KPMG has parted ways with audit trainee Zhihui Lu, following a series of strange altercations with the professional services giant’s management. Lu, who reportedly struggled with stress and depression during her time with the Big Four firm, saw her case dismissed by an employment tribunal following her eventual dismissal in late 2018.

Durham University graduate Zhihui Lu joined KPMG as an Audit Assistant in 2015, however in the space of just two years bosses were regularly raising concerns about her performance and discourteous behaviour. According to reports from UK tabloid The Sun, Lu’s conduct was initially called into question when she was repeatedly warned not to take too much food for herself from lunches provided for staff.

She reportedly went as far as bringing boxes, so that she could take as many helpings away as possible, aggressively confronting colleagues who asked her not to. At the same time, Lu apparently refused to sit on the same floor as the rest of her team, instead taking up residence in a meeting room five floors below, where she set up a rice cooker.

Lu’s behaviour quickly saw colleagues become concerned with her mental health – something which came to a head when worried KPMG bosses could not get in contact with her one evening. According to The Daily Mail, after ringing Lu’s home to no avail, they eventually called the police to check at her home that she was OK. It was an intervention she would later complain about, and claim she was not reachable because she was at an opera.

The trainee’s behaviour did not change in the following months; she routinely referred to one senior colleague as “the bald partner”, despite knowing his name, and an employment tribunal would later heard her claimed that when she was passed over for promotion that she would have done better if she had slept with one of the firm's male partners. The firm still attempted to support its employee's health, in Autumn 2017, she was signed off from work for stress and depression.

When she returned, however, another row soon broke out, this time over her clothing. After Lu was seen in the office wearing jeans and trainers, her boss Matt Brunton reportedly sent her an email noting “you were in the office this afternoon in casual clothing. This is not appropriate attire for the office during working hours.”

Lu responded to this with what was later described as a “loud and aggressive tirade,” and demanding to know if Brunton thought the bra she was wearing was appropriate. When Brunton again clarified via email that he did not expect to see her in the firm’s Canary Wharf office “in casual clothing, such as jeans and trainers,” Lu scalded him for “mansplaining on dress codes.” She further asked if she could claim winter clothing on company expenses, “to ensure that I dress to your desired taste?”

Following the series of incidents, KPMG told Lu not to come into work until fit to work, before eventually dismissing her for gross misconduct in November 2018. Lu then took KPMG to tribunal after her sacking, accusing the Big Four firm of discriminating against her on grounds of race and disability. The employment tribunal eventually dismissed her claims.

Since the end of the case, Lu, whose LinkedIn currently describes her as “Looking for a new role,” and a “Tenacious Career Seeker,” has continued to garner public attention. Since her situation came into focus in June, Lu has regularly created content centred on KPMG, including a blog post entitled “This (probably) wouldn't get me a job because I love KPMG UK too much,” and a series of songs about the company.