Lidl worker ‘bullied out of job after blowing the whistle on defrosted and mouldy food being sold to customers when fridges and freezers were turned off’
- Matthew O’Donnell forced out of his job after blowing whistle, tribunal hears
- The 28-year-old claims he spotted ‘mouldy’ produce at the Hanham store
- Later said he was made to ‘scan faster’ on tills or face disciplinary for poor performance
- Lidl has accused him of ‘grossly misinterpreting the situation’ last year
A Lidl employee was forced out of his job after he blew the whistle on ‘degenerated and mouldy’ food being sold to customers, an employment tribunal heard.
Matthew O’Donnell, 28, alerted senior managers after he spotted defrosted products on sale alongside mouldy fruit and vegetables at a store in Hanham, Gloucestershire, it was said.
He claims the stock was compromised after the fridges and freezers were turned off for more than four hours during a heatwave for maintenance.
But the products were still on sale the next day and Mr O’Donnell claimed customers were even directed towards the products to ‘maximise consumption’.
When the former employee made a complaint he says his concerns saw him bullied out of his job by bosses and co-workers after they were told he had ‘dropped them in it’, it is claimed.
He has now taken the company to an employment tribunal where a judge will decide whether he suffered detriment or dismissal for exercising his rights.
Mr O’Donnell told the tribunal: ‘I stated I felt let down by the procedure, which meant every time I spoke up to alert management to hazards I was always being penalised with harassment and loss of hours.
‘I had simply had enough.’
The tribunal in Bristol heard that Mr O’Donnell took up a job at the city’s Hanham store on June 8 last year after moving from Wales.
He described how, during a night shift on July 7, an electrical contractor began upgrading electrics and the power was switched off for ‘over four hours’.
He said: ‘The loss of power resulted in store deliveries being unable to be processed safely, chill cabinets not being secured as well as freezers defaulting to defrost mode, which severely compromised the integrity of the food stocked within the store.’
He said when he returned to work the next day he found mould in the fruit and vegetable section and products ‘seriously degenerated’, four days prior to their use-by date.
Mr O’Donnell then sent a report to senior Lidl officials, believing he would be protected from victimisation by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.
He said he told managers he felt that he was responsible if anything happened to members of the public.
But Mr O’Donnell, from Kingswood, Bristol, claims his initial complaints were dismissed by store manager Krysztof Golanski who said he was told by electricians that power was only down for two hours – the maximum allowed under company policy.
He then took his complaints to personnel department at the company’s regional distribution centre in Weston-super-Mare.
‘Every time I spoke up I was always being penalised with harassment and loss of house,’ Matthew O’Donnell tells tribunal
The tribunal heard that Mr O’Donnell claims when he returned to work he became aware that Mr Golanski had advised all staff that he had ‘dropped them in it’.
He said he found himself axed from shifts and ‘ostracised due to malicious rumour-mongering’.
He claims he faced extra pressure at work, such as being told to scan faster on the tills or face a disciplinary for poor performance.
His situation got so bad that Mr O’Donnell said he was forced to hand in a resignation letter, on September 9, due to the ‘lack of support and ongoing hostility, especially with ongoing food hygiene failures and lack of meaningful resolution of the dispute’.
Smair Soor, a barrister representing Lidl, told Mr O’Donnell under cross examination that his version of events was a ‘gross misinterpretation’ of the facts.
He added: ‘It might be that you didn’t find working in retail convivial. You had long queues and felt under pressure by your performance.’
The tribunal also heard that Mr O’Donnell was told he could be sacked after taking complaints about the food to senior company officials.
Giving evidence, store manager Mr Golanski said the threats had not been intentional and were instead taken in the wrong way.
The tribunal was expected to finish today.
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