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Kitchen manager unfairly dismissed over discrimination about food safety

A tribunal has ruled that a kitchen manager for Beefeater was unfairly dismissed and been discriminated against because of his disability. The manager was dismissed for food safety failings after being required to work excessive hours.

Mr Hermosa Mateos stated that his concentration was affected by the pain medication he took, and he has been unable to cope with the longer working hours at the Whitbread Group. Mr Mateos had returned to work after leave of absence for illness.  

The claimant was employed as a kitchen manager at the Albert, which is a Beefeater restaurant situated in Colchester, Essex. After suffering a ruptured bowel in November 2017 Mr Mateos did not return to work until May 2018.

The Occupational Health Department advised Mr Mateos that he should return to work gradually, over a phased period, and that he should avoid lifting anything heavy. They also advised him to break up the tasks in order to give him a rest at times. The OT department noted that he should be treated as disabled under the Equality Act 2010.

Soon after Mr Mateos returned to work (on reduced hours) informal meetings which monitored his health and work ability were stopped. This was because his manager relocated to a different restaurant.

At the end of the phased return to work, the company omitted to carry out a review meeting with Mr Mateos. The aim of this meeting was to review his ability to cope with the workload and to establish his capability to work his contracted 48 hours per week.

Because of staff shortages and a colleague being suspended Mr Mateos found himself working far more than 48 hours per week. He admitted that his pain increased the longer he worked. Because of this he began to take extra medication. This additional medication made him feel dizzy and weak, and he experienced poor concentration and forgetfulness.

The effects of the extra pain medication meant that he battled with the demands of the job. Mr Mateos stated that he could hardly keep up with the food safety checks that needed to be carried out and his speed in dealing with them was affected.

Mr Mateos told the deputy manager about his problems and the demands of the job, but his situation was never discussed or investigated by the restaurant.

Following the discovery of 20 food safety issues between 31st July and 7th August Mr Mateos was called into a meeting and suspended. He was dismissed in September.

The Central London Employment Tribunal handled the claim for unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and failure to make any reasonable adjustments in the workplace for the claimant.

The Whitbread Group, who owns the Beefeater chain has a policy where staff were required to cover for any colleagues who took leave of absence for a short period of time. It was because of this that Mr Mateos had to work more hours than he should have because he himself was just returning from sick leave. Mr Mateos said that sometimes he had to work up to 68 hours a week.

The tribunal stated that because Mr Mateos had recently returned to work, he should never have been made to work the longer hours because his own health was not at it’s peak and he was still tired. His energy levels had not returned to the levels before he was ill. Steps should have been taken to reduce the hours, not increase them.

There was no evidence from the respondent to show that it would have been impossible to provide at least temporary cover for a colleague and there was a failure to make a reasonable adjustment in this instance.

The tribunal also found that Whitbread Group’s investigation into the food safety issues had not been reasonable. If it had been investigated thoroughly it would have shown the stress that Mr Mateos was under and efforts made to improve conditions in the workplace.

The tribunal noted that there were many food safety issues which Mr Mateos had been responsible for and he should have reported them to his superior. He should have informed the company that he could not cope with the extra workload.

The tribunal did not disclose the amount of the settlement and Whitbread Group declined to comment.

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