HR vs the law | 'Sacked for taking lunch break' & other surreal employment tribunals from 2022

'Sacked for taking lunch break' & other surreal employment tribunals from 2022

A manager has been awarded a five-figure sum after her boss sacked her for taking a lunch break.

Tracie Shearwood was compensated to the tune of £11,000 following the incident at Lean Education and Development in the West Midlands.

An employment tribunal hears that, by heading out to lunch with two colleagues, Shearwood “enormously” angered the firm’s managing director Maxine Jones, who viewed the decision as “disloyalty” during what was described as a period of crisis for the business,“ according to the legal documents.

Shearwood was sacked soon afterwards for gross misconduct, but she has now successfully sued her old employers for unfair dismissal and won £11,885 in compensation.

Without wanting to diminish the serious impact this case had on the employee, the case’s peculiar nature presents an opportunity to look back at some of 2022’s more unusual employment tribunals...

‘Legal right to be boring’

In late November, an employee won a legal case against his former employer after being sacked for not taking part in his company’s team building activities, a victory being dubbed the 'legal right to be boring'...

Consulting firm Cubik Partners dismissed the worker for being “insufficient professionally”, mainly because he didn’t get involved during company outings, which consisted of partying and drinking, and outside of working hours.

Court papers from an employment hearing, which took place in France, found that the events involved “excessive alcoholism encouraged by colleagues who made available very large quantities of alcohol, and practices pushed by colleagues involving promiscuity, bullying and incitement to various excesses".

The employee, identified only as Mr T in legal documents, claimed that he had a right to “refuse company policy based on incitement to partake in various excesses”.

A letter from his employers cited “his disagreement with the management methods of the company and the criticism of their decisions”.

Cubik Partners also claimed that he was a poor listener and difficult to work alongside.

But the court ruled that Mr T “could not be blamed for his lack of integration in the fun environment”.

It was also said that the firm couldn't make him "forcibly participate in meet-ups and weekend drinks that frequently ended up in excessive alcohol intake, harassment by colleagues who made very large quantities of alcohol available."

It was ruled that Mr T had a legal right to refuse to take part in such activities, awarding him more than £2,500 compensation in the process.

Boss ‘waved meat’ in vegan worker’s face

In July, a tribunal heard that a subway worker was sacked after blowing the whistle on her bully boss who “waved meat in her face” and served vegan customers animal product.

Kady Reilly was awarded £13,000 in compensation after the actions of her line manager Himanshu Lahar were judged to have broken the Equality Act.

The employment tribunal in Glasgow heard that mum-of-two Reilly abstained from eating animal products on a moral basis but also suffered from allergies, and had to carry an epi-pen.

She later reported her boss to Environmental Health over concerns about Lahar’s running of the restaurant, including claims that he would serve out-of-date products.

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Following this, authorities carried out a hygiene inspection at the premises, and Lahar became suspicious that it was Reilly who had raised the alarm.

The following month, she was sacked, being told that she had not passed her probationary period.

Reilly then launched tribunal proceedings against RT Management Bridgeton Limited, the business which operated the franchise location in Bridgeton, Glasgow.

The tribunal concluded that the main reason Reilly was sacked was because of her whistleblowing.

£25k payout for pregnant worker who took five minute break

That same month, an employment judge awarded a care home worker £25,000 after her boss called her "pathetic" for needing a five minute break.

Anna Burns, who was four months away from giving birth, asked to take a short tea break while working at a care home in Kent, only to told she was "treating her pregnancy as an excuse not to pull her weight".

An employment judge heard that Burns’ bosses accused her of already taking too many breaks that day, and refused to let her have another break in the afternoon. Burns added that her boss called her "pathetic" following this incident.

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The next day, Burns went off sick and filed a grievance, citing an "ongoing culture of bullying and discrimination due to her pregnancy".

She decided not to return to the company after her maternity leave.

Employment Judge, Corinna Ferguson, concluded that the incidents did constitute discriminatory behaviour from the company.

Firm sued for not playing enough old music

Age discrimination in the workplace can take on many forms, but perhaps one of the more surreal is a worker accusing his firm of committing ageism by playing music that's too modern.

In January, reports emerged that Fitzroy Gaynes took Third Space, an upmarket gym chain with branches in the likes of Soho, Mayfair and Marylebone, to an employment tribunal because the music played in the gym was no older than 18 months.

Gaynes, a 64-year-old male, claimed that in doing so, the business he’d worked at since 2001 was committing age discrimination against him.

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However, his claim has been thrown out by an employment tribunal, after the company successfully argued that modern music was part of its “emphasis on image and modernity”, and that older songs “do not sound as good when played on new sound systems”.

The club's choice of music was not the only grievance raised by Gaynes.

He had also accused the Soho branch of Third Space, where he worked, of racial discrimination after they launched an investigation into his conduct in 2019, including claims that he failed to follow uniform and timekeeping policies.

However, all the claims were dismissed by the employment judge.

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