Chef automatically unfair dismissed after raising concerns about using chicken stock cubes in vegetarian dishes (Ali v Indian Cuisine Limited (2206359/2018))

In the case of Mr M Ali v Indian Cuisine Limited (2206359/2018), the Employment Tribunal (‘ET’) upheld the Claimant’s claim that he had been automatically unfairly dismissed because he had made a protected disclosure about his employer’s chef using chicken stock cubes in halal, vegan and vegetarian dishes.

The facts in Mr M Ali v Indian Cuisine Limited

Mr Ali (the ‘Claimant’) commenced employment with Indian Cuisines Limited (the ‘Respondent’) on 30 May 2016 as an Assistant Manager.  The Respondent operated a group of restaurants called the Tamarin Collection, which included a restaurant called Tamarind of Mayfair, where the Claimant worked.  It was decided in January 2018 to close the restaurant for a refurbishment.  When the restaurant reopened, it was decided that there was to be a restructure and all the assistant mangers would be made redundant.  The Claimant was transferred during the refurbishment to work in Tamarin Kitchen in Soho, another restaurant in the Tamarin Collection.

A new Michelin star chef was employed to oversee the refit and reopening of the Tamarind of Mayfair.  He was based at the Tamarind Kitchen where he oversaw menu development.  During that time, he started to prepare and taste new dishes which included the use of chicken Knorr stock in halal, vegan and vegetarian dishes.  The Claimant was very concerned about this and customers being misled about the contents of dishes.

On 4 June 2018 the Claimant made a verbal request to a senior chef that the correct information be provided to waiters to ensure dishes were accurately described.  In response he was told that the new chef had confirmed that the information on the new menus was correct.  When he raised his concerns again, he was told to speak directly to the new chef.  Then on 11 June he sent an e-mail, copying in all the senior chefs and his line manager, explaining his concerns and asking for clarification of which meat dishes could be described as halal and whether they were using chicken stock in any of the vegetarian, vegan or fish dishes.  The email clearly stated the Claimant’s concerns about what ingredients were contained in various dishes and how dangerous it was to not disclose all of the ingredients to customers.

On 18 June 2018, the chef was asked directly about the use of chicken stock and the chef confirmed he was using it and did not want it disclosed to guests.  That same evening the issue was raised on the telephone with a director of the Respondent who replied that employees who had an issue with it ‘need to be phased out’.

On 2 July 2018 the Claimant was made redundant at a meeting, prior to which he was given no warning that he might be made redundant.  At the meeting or after there was no attempt to consult with the Claimant about his redundancy or find him suitable alternative employment. The Claimant appealed the decision to make him redundant, stating that the real reason he was made redundant was because of the concerns he had raised. An appeal meeting was held on 1 August 2018 but at the outset of that meeting the Respondent’s representative made it clear that it had been decided that the Claimant’s allegations were unfounded and would not be upheld.  As a result, the Claimant felt no need to proceed with the meeting and it lasted a mere five minutes.

The Claimant went on to make a claim for automatic unfair dismissal for making a protected disclosure in the Employment Tribunal.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET)

The Et ruled that the Claimant was automatically unfairly dismissed for having made a protected disclosure.  The ET held that when the Claimant spoke to a chef initially expressing his concerns he made his first protected interest disclosure and his second by way of an e-mail on 11 June 2018.  The Respondent’s representative tried to argue that the e-mail on 11 June was merely asking questions, rather than disclosing information regarding a breach of a legal obligation, but the ET rejected that argument, as the e-mail clearly stated the Claimant’s concern about what ingredients were contained in various meals and how dangerous it could be to not disclose all the ingredients to customers and staff and to update the allergen menu. 

Whilst the ET accepted that in January 2018 the decision had been made to restructure, they held that the Claimant’s dismissal was accelerated by his protected interest disclosure.  His position was originally due to be made redundant in August after the return of a colleague whose leave he was covering, he was in fact made redundant a month earlier.

The ET went on to find that the Claimant would have been dismissed for reasons of redundancy in any event, and therefore limited the compensatory award to the one month’s pay he would have received if a fair and proper redundancy process had been followed.

Our solicitors’ views on the case of Mr Ali v Indian Cuisine Ltd

Sacha Barrett, a Senior Associate in the employment department at Redmans, made the following comment on the case: “This case illustrates the importance of employer’s investigating carefully any concerns raised by their employees about breaches of legal obligations and having proper whistle blowing procedures in place to deal with such complaints.”

The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Mr M Ali v Indian Cuisine Limited (2206359/2018) can be found here.