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Dismissal for Breach of Hygiene Rules Was Fair

PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.

In Donovan v Greggs plc, the Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled that the employer’s decision to dismiss an experienced baker for failing to comply with its strict hygiene rules was fair.

Bakery chain Greggs plc operated a strict policy on hand washing, details of which were included in the staff handbook. The need to comply with the policy was reinforced by staff training and in regular communications with employees.

Sion Donovan, a bakery worker with 11 years’ service, acknowledged the importance of hand washing in order to ensure safe food preparation but admitted having failed to wash his hands before returning to the food preparation area.

Greggs argued that a zero-tolerance approach to its hygiene policy was essential in order to prevent the risk of its bakery products becoming the vehicle for the spread of an infection that could cause illness, as well as reputational harm that could do serious damage to the company’s business. In its view, an employee who could not be trusted to adhere to the rules posed an unacceptable risk to the safety of its food preparation.

Mr Donovan argued that dismissal was too harsh a punishment in light of his unblemished service record and was therefore outside the band of reasonable responses available to his employer in the circumstances.

In rejecting Mr Donovan’s claim of unfair dismissal, the ET acknowledged that length of service can be a mitigating factor when deciding what disciplinary action is appropriate. However, in this case Mr Donovan’s experience in the food industry was ‘a double-edged sword’. Greggs was entitled to expect such an experienced worker to respect its hygiene rules but he had shown that he could not be relied upon to do so. Given the potential risk of such behaviour to the company’s customers and to its reputation, the decision to dismiss him was reasonable.

For advice on any disciplinary matter, please contact Wendy Davidson.

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