Restaurant worker unfairly dismissed after whistleblowing

Tamarind restaurant (2004)
Photo: Rex/Shutterstock

An employment tribunal has ruled that the sacking of an assistant restaurant manager after he had blown the whistle over ingredients was unfair, although he was already set to be made redundant.

London-based restaurant chain Tamarind Kitchen removed three employees after they had complained that Michelin-starred chef Karunesh Khanna was using Knorr chicken stock powder in halal, vegetarian and vegan dishes without informing customers, the Central London Employment Tribunal heard. Restaurant director Fateh Dhaliwal, denies the allegations made by the employees.

The staff concerned were working at Tamarind Kitchen, one of three Tamarind outlets in the capital specialising in upmarket Indian cuisine. Mr Ali, the claimant, had been transferred there after the Mayfair branch of the restaurant was closed for refurbishment in April 2018. Other staff in the Mayfair outlet were made redundant at this time.

Ali, who had worked for the company since 2016, sent emails in June raising concerns about the use of the chicken stock for vegetarian/vegan dishes and the accuracy of the dietary menus in terms of allergen information and the description of meat-free products. The menus were overseen by Khanna who had oversight of Tamarind Kitchen while the Mayfair restaurant was being revamped.

Tamarind Kitchen manager Mr Malik was approached by the claimant and five other employees (including non-Muslims) on his return from holiday on 18 June. Malik discussed the issue with the chefs and concluded the chicken stock was being used under the instructions of Khanna, who later allegedly told Malik that “guests don’t need to know what ingredients” were used.

The tribunal heard that Malik raised the issue with Dhaliwal and was told to keep selling dishes as if they were suitable for all dietary requirements. When told that the team members would not be happy, Dhaliwal replied: “Those members of staff need to be phased out.”

Malik said he felt this was unethical and relayed the conversation to Ali who was said to be horrified by the lack of care over the impact of such policies on customers and exposing them to food that was against their religious and philosophical beliefs and potentially unsafe.

Malik was instructed to make Ali redundant but was unhappy about this and agreed to go on paid leave, leaving the chain’s HR consultant to make Ali and another assistant manager redundant, on 30 June 2018.

Ali appealed, but realised very quickly at the meeting that its outcome had been predetermined by Tamarind, which had decided his concerns were unfounded after an investigation. The tribunal found this was not a fair and reasonable appeal hearing, with the claimant unable to set out his concerns.

Ali later phoned hygiene and food safety consultant Food Alert while pretending to be a journalist. He also accessed emails between Khanna and Food Alert, which the company described as hacking, and used the word “jihad” to describe his campaign. This led Tamarind to allege he was not a credible witness. However, because of the use of generic passwords at Tamarind and the resultant ease of reading other members of staff’s communications, the tribunal, while critical of the claimant for lying to Food Alert and using poorly chosen language, found Ali to be credible.

At the hearing, the respondent’s lawyers argued that six members of staff had complained about the chicken stock but only two were made redundant. This, they said, showed that the restructuring in the run-up to the enlarged Mayfair restaurant’s reopening was the reason for the sackings and not their whistleblowing. The tribunal accepted that the claimant would have been made redundant even if he hadn’t made a protected interest disclosure.

But employment judge Isaacson also ruled that Ali’s whistleblowing was the “principal reason why the claimant was dismissed on the 6 July 2018. Therefore, the claimant’s dismissal was automatically unfair.”

The claimant’s compensatory award will be limited to one month’s pay because he would have been made redundant just one month after his actual sacking. A remedy hearing is set for September but the tribunal was hopeful a settlement would be reached before then.

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