Whistleblower wins Employment Tribunal case against Lidl

MoJA former store-worker has won his Employment Tribunal claim against a cut-price supermarket chain after he claimed that he was fired in 2013 because he had raised concerns about mouldy food in the store.

Mr Matthew O’Donnell, 28, worked for Lidl as a store worker until he was fired last year after raising complaints about health and safety in the store in the wake of a power cut at Lidl’s Bistol store. He subsequently brought claims for unfair dismissal, detriment due to protected disclosure, and automatic unfair dismissal against the firm in the Bristol Employment Tribunal.

Mr O’Donnell, giving evidence in his favour at the Tribunal, stated that he was working at the Lidl supermarket on 7 July 2013 when there was a power cut. At the time the UK was experiencing a heatwave and, as a result of the store’s freezers being switched off, some of the produce being sold became “compromised” and “degenerated and mouldy”. However, this stock was sold the next day, leading to complaints from the public. Mr O’Donnell complained to management that the produce was not fit to sell and was a danger to health and safety but stated that he had been threatened by his store manager with being sacked. Mr O’Donnell stated that, nonetheless, he continued with his complaint but as then subjected to a “campaign of victimisation and harassment” by senior managers. Mr O’Donnell produced an audio recording with his store manager, Mr Golanski, that Mr Golanski had told him: “You’re not going to change the company. You’re not going to change the store, okay? What is going to happen is you’re going to upset people or you’re going to upset (district manager) Sarah (Giddings). If you’re going to upset Sarah, she’s going to sack you straight away, okay?”

Lawyers for Lidl argued at the Employment Tribunal hearing that the meeting with Mr Golanski was “not designed to silence” Mr O’Donnell.

The Employment Tribunal found in Mr O’Donnell’s favour in a reserved judgment, finding the supermarket liable for Mr O’Donnell’s claims for detriment due to protected disclosure and automatic unfair dismissal. Mr O’Donnell’s claim for unlawful deduction from wages was dismissed, however. A remedy hearing will be held in due course to determine the amount of compensation that Mr O’Donnell will be awarded.

Mr O’Donnell commented on the judgment of the Tribunal: “I did this in the interest of the public. If it was about money, I would have kept quiet. We needed answers. It is a phenomenal result and beyond my wildest expectations. Hopefully it can encourage more people to come forward and blow the whistle in situations like this.”

A spokeswoman for Lidl commented on the judgment of the Employment Tribunal: “We accept the decision of the tribunal and we will remain vigilant to ensure that the appropriate processes are duly followed in future.”

Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Businesses must deal with health and safety complaints in the workplace in a fair fashion and ensure that those complaints are fairly and promptly investigated. If workers are subjected to any form of detriment or dismissed because they have made a ‘protected disclosure’ then the business may face an expensive and time-consuming Employment Tribunal claim.”