Whistle-blower unfairly dismissed over social distancing concerns

A worker at a pet food shop has won her claim of unfair dismissal after she raised concerns over her employer’s Covid protocol.

Leah Best worked for Embark on Raw, a pet food retailer owned by husband-and-wife team David and Andrea Fletcher.

In March 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic, measures were put in place by the company to ensure worker safety in line with the government guidelines.

However, Best felt her colleagues were failing to comply with the rules such as social distancing and wearing face masks.

She raised her concerns via a feedback form and communications were sent to staff to remind them of the required measures.

Around a month later Best contacted Andrea Fletcher to repeat her concerns that the workers weren’t consistently following the rules, adding that if she were to contact the virus then it would be because of the workplace environment.

Replying by text message, the Fletchers asked Best to be “realistic and not paranoid” adding “we are doing the best that we can and we are not breaking any rules”.

In the following days an altercation between Best and one of her colleagues Kate Footer came to the attention of the Fletchers.

Footer claimed that Best had challenged her publicly about adhering to the restrictions and had tried to “boss her about”.

She added that she, and some of her co-workers, would not tolerate this from Best and were considering leaving the company.

In a phone call the following day, Best was told by Andrea Fletcher that she had created a divide in the workforce and was issued with a verbal warning.

Best was off work for a few weeks with Covid symptoms and then anxiety.

On the day of her scheduled return, she was dismissed in a meeting with the Fletchers who told her “moving forward, we just don’t think it’s going to work”.

Best took her case to the Employment Tribunal which ruled in her favour. It noted that the primary reason for her dismissal was that she made protected disclosures. No investigation had been made following Best’s initial concerns. No other member of staff was interviewed, nor was there any written records.

Best was also not properly invited to a disciplinary meeting, had no notice of disciplinary allegations made against her and no opportunity to prepare a response.

David Fletcher admitted to the tribunal that he had “made up his mind that it was time to let Best go, the other staff can’t work with her”.

Any compensation will be decided at a separate remedy hearing.

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