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Head chef loses unfair dismissal claim after owners uncovered catalogue of ‘shocking’ food hygiene practices

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Mr M Murphy v The Malt Shovel at Barston an employment tribunal in Birmingham was told that Mr Murphy had worked at the pub for 21 years, joining as a junior chef and becoming the head chef in 2006. In 2018, the pub was bought by new owners Eric and Heidi Cahill, who initially only visited the business two or three times a month.

However, the tribunal was told that they became more involved when the pub reopened in April 2021 following the Covid pandemic. When they started attending on a daily basis, the hearing was told staff reported concerns about unhygienic practices in the kitchen which led to Mr Cahill starting an investigation in May 2021.

The following month Mr Murphy was summoned to a disciplinary meeting conducted by Mrs Cahill at which 14 allegations were set out. The tribunal heard that among the practices he was found to be in breach of were ‘cross contamination’. He was also found to have stored food ‘inappropriately’ as well as regularly leaving a food store unlocked overnight so fish and other deliveries could be left there out of hours.

‘(Mrs and Mrs Cahill) had obtained witness statements from staff members regarding mussels being in a fish drawer that ‘stank and were clearly dead and unfit for human consumption’, despite them being ‘in service’ earlier that day,’ the tribunal heard.

Mr Murphy was also found to have been ‘double dipping’ or putting his fingers into a sauce and tasting it, then dipping his fingers into it again. ‘(Mr and Mrs Cahill) again had witness statements from staff who had seen this,’ the tribunal said.

10 of the 14 allegations against him were upheld. He was dismissed the following day.

At the tribunal Mr Murphy brought claims of unfair and wrongful dismissal. He said the decision to fire him was ‘severe’ and that he should have been given an opportunity to ‘rectify any shortcomings’.

The panel disagreed, however, and said he had been ‘grossly negligent’.

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