Hospitality businesses endured a torrid time during COVID-19 lockdowns, but the majority did their best to treat staff fairly. As an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, however, those that did not can expect to reap a bitter harvest.
The case concerned a man with mental health difficulties who had been praised and promoted for his work as a pub chef. After the pandemic struck and the pub had to close, he was placed on furlough. Whilst at home, he was in close contact with his father, who suffered from a number of serious medical conditions, including a brain tumour, and for that reason was shielding during the health crisis.
As the end of a lockdown approached, the man was asked to return to work to help out. He raised issues with his employer about the possibility of his father catching COVID-19 from him. He asserted that staff were not issued with personal protective equipment and that no precautions were taken to create a COVID-secure working environment. He said that his employer’s response to his concerns was robustly negative and that he began to be viewed as a nuisance.
Without any discussion or process, his employment was terminated with immediate effect, by text. A director of the employer explained that the format of the business would be changing at the end of lockdown and that it would require a smaller team. After the man launched ET proceedings, the employer put in no response to his complaints.
On the basis of his clear and cogent evidence, the ET found that, until he raised his concerns, he had been a successful and valued member of the pub’s staff. He had either been dismissed or selected for redundancy because he had taken steps to protect his father from what he reasonably believed to be the serious and imminent danger posed by the virus.
The ET noted that he had also not received all the furlough pay that was due to him and that, for a period of five months, pension deductions from his wages had not been paid into his pension. He also received no notice pay or holiday pay during the relevant period. His total compensation, including more than £20,000 in respect of his unfair dismissal, came to £23,624.50.