Employee dismissed for failure to wash hands-harsh but not unfair?

A bakery employee from the Welsh valleys was dismissed after a hand hygiene “lapse” during a night shift. Following the employee’s claim for unfair dismissal, the Tribunal ruled that the dismissal was fair.

Sion Donovan, who was employed by Greggs for 11 years, went to fetch equipment from the locker room at a bakery in Treforest, Pontypridd but then failed to wash his hands on returning to the food processing area.

Mr Donovan at an employment tribunal admitted the transgression but felt that the reaction of Greggs was disproportionate. He said that he had been so focused on his next job that he had forgotten to wash his hands. “It was a lapse” he said “Hand washing is routine- part of being a food handler and something I took very seriously.”Greggs’ company policy states that all employees should carry out a hand wash every time they return to a food processing area. Greggs maintained their decision to dismiss was reasonable because of its zero tolerance approach to breaches of its hygiene rules. Greggs’ bakery manager Dale Humphries said “There’s a risk that they (the employee) might take bacteria or pathogens into the bakery  and cause food illness or a poisoning outbreak” and the breach of the company’s rules may have been “potentially lethal”.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, where an employee with an appropriate qualifying service is dismissed the dismissal will be unfair unless:

  • The employer shows that the dismissal was for a potentially fair reason and
  • In all the circumstances the employer acted reasonably in treating that reason as a sufficient reason for dismissal.

The test as to whether the employer acted reasonably is an objective one with the tribunal having to decide whether the employer’s decision to dismiss the employee fell within the range of “reasonable responses”, in other words would a reasonable employer in those circumstances and in that business have come to the same conclusion.

The tribunal found that the dismissal was fair and that Greggs acted within the range of “reasonable responses”. It was accepted that the employer’s principal reason for dismissal was that Mr Donovan  could not be trusted to follow hand-washing rules and that he posed a risk to Greggs’ customers and reputation.

The decision may seem harsh especially given Mr Donovan’s length of service but the tribunal did not find it unfair.

If you have an employment Law query Hugh Grant our employment law specialist is here to help. Please contact him on 0141 552 3422 or by email hjg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

This entry was posted in Legal by Elizabeth Baker. Bookmark the permalink.

About Elizabeth Baker

Elizabeth is our Business Development Manager. She has a degree in both English Literature and Law from Glasgow University. After graduating in 1983 she served her traineeship as a solicitor in Oban. When she was admitted as a solicitor her first job was at Mitchells Roberton in 1985 so she is a well known face. She spread her wings and joined other firms along the way and had a successful law practice under her own name for some years. She returned to Mitchells Roberton in 2011 and works primarily to enhance the marketing of our firm. With her excellent links with small business and the media in the greater Glasgow area, she is well placed in the role and generates a good deal of referrals and new business. Elizabeth is a people person and naturally connects with both staff and clients. Elizabeth has two grown up children and loves walking her dog, travelling and reading literature.

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