Tribunal rejects chef’s unpaid wages claim after kitchen ventilation failure

Kitchen extraction canopy

A chef who walked out of his kitchen over the lack of extractor fans has had his appeal for unpaid wages rejected by a tribunal.

Artur Sumera tried to recover £315.74 from his former employer, Atlantique Seafood, which trades as Soy Sushi Restaurant in Jersey, after the kitchen ventilation system packed up and he claimed that working in the hot conditions gave him a nosebleed.

The request was thrown out by Jersey’s Employment and Discrimination Tribunal as part of a wider case that saw Mr Sumera attempt to reclaim a further £3,785.33 in untaken time off in lieu.

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According to court records, the ventilation system in the kitchen broke down on 3 July last year due to cleaners power-washing the system.

The company’s director, Victor Gomes, immediately tried to arrange for the system to be repaired, but was informed that it would have to be replaced entirely, which took three days.

Mr Sumera gave evidence that, without the extractor fans, the working conditions in the kitchen became very difficult, arguing that it “filled with smoke” and was a “real danger to my health”.

He also told the tribunal that the temperature in the kitchen rose to more than 50°C even though there was no thermometer to record it and a former employee called as a witness estimated the temperature to be in the region of 30°C.

Mr Gomes rejected the assertion that the working conditions were a danger to health, insisting that he provided one large fan and one small fan in the kitchen and opened all four windows. As the kitchen was open-plan to the restaurant, this meant that fresh air passed through the kitchen.

The tribunal heard that staff who worked there had even joked that the working conditions in the kitchen were better than when the extractor fans were in operation.

STOCK IMAGE: A chef who declined to work after a ventilation system broke down for three days was told that “one would expect a professional kitchen to be hotter than an office”.

On the day that the ventilation system failed, Mr Sumera completed his lunchtime shift without any complaint about the working conditions, but five minutes before he was due to work in the evening he sent a message saying he was taking time off in lieu as he could not breathe, it was too hot and the kitchen conditions caused him to have a nosebleed.

He returned to work the following day expecting the fans to have been repaired but after discovering the ventilation system remained out of service, he left midway through his shift and complained about the heat and the smoke.

In his evidence, he asserted that he remained on ‘standby’ to return to work once the ventilation system had been fixed and argued that he should receive payment for the days when it was broken because his employer had a duty to provide him with a safe system of work.

However, the judge presiding over the case accepted the employer’s evidence to be “more reliable” and concluded that the temperature in the kitchen was “not unreasonably hot”.

She noted that there was no legal requirement that an employer maintain a workplace below a specific maximum temperature and said the “reasonableness” of the temperature must take account of the type of work being undertaken. “When viewed objectively, one would expect a professional kitchen to be hotter than an office,” she said.

Furthermore, she added: “There was no evidence to suggest that the other kitchen staff found the working environment to be intolerable. Everyone except for the claimant continued to work; there was no ‘mass’ walk-out and no formal complaints in connection with the kitchen’s temperature.

“The respondent took reasonable steps to mitigate against any discomfort and there was sufficient current of air in the kitchen during this period to ensure that the kitchen remained a safe place of work.”

Concluding that “on the balance of probabilities, the working conditions remained reasonable in the kitchen while the ventilation system was out of service”, she said Mr Sumera was not entitled to refuse to work during that period and therefore his unpaid wages claim was rejected.

Tags : chefcourtlegal
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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