Sacked chef takes on Stoke's Potters Club at tribunal
A CHEF was fired from a prestigious private members' club after being caught drinking on his break.
Ernest Totton was sacked by the British Pottery Manufacturers' Federation Club in Stoke after his manager caught him swigging a bottle of beer in the venue's car park in March.
But the 61-year-old, who worked at the Potters' Club for 40 years, is claiming unfair dismissal against his former employer.
He says he was not on duty when he was seen drinking, and claims the club sacked him in order to avoid paying him redundancy.
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Mr Totton, from Basford, told yesterday's employment tribunal that he did not think his behaviour amounted to gross misconduct.
He said: "I think it was unfair because I was on a break. What if I'd gone next door for a pint? They would never have known."
Mr Totton claimed that usually he would not even get the chance to take a break while at work.
He added: "There was too much work to do. I didn't get a break, nobody got a break.
"We were supposed to get two-and-a-half hours break a week but nobody got it. We got time off in lieu when we worked a day off, but that was only when the head chef said we could take it."
Mr Totton has also made a claim of discrimination, saying he was subjected to verbal abuse and unfair treatment because of his age.
He claimed the club's head chef Rino Salvemini continually shouted at him.
But while under cross examination, Mr Totton was unable to explain why he felt he was being targeted because of his age.
The tribunal heard that Mr Totton had taken time off sick in February 2011 due to stress, and when he came back his status and duties were reduced.
On the evening of March 3, club manager Mark Roberts found Mr Totton and another chef drinking beer in the club car park.
The two men were investigated and following a disciplinary hearing both were fired.
Mr Roberts told the tribunal that drinking on duty was considered gross misconduct.
He said: "I'd gone to the kitchen to discuss the menu for the following day, and I was told they were taking their break. I had no problem with that, as we had just had a great evening.
"I went downstairs to get some fresh air and talk to them, when I saw them with the bottles of beer.
"Employees are still on duty when they're taking their break. If someone was injured during their break, we couldn't deny any responsibility saying they weren't on duty."
Club chairman Michael Jones denied claims that the club's financial situation meant it had to cut staff numbers.
He said: "Absolutely not. There was no redundancy situation at the time. The club was prosperous."
The Potters' Club, opposite Stoke railway station, claims to offer the "highest standards of food and hospitality".
Mr Totton's case was adjourned until October 23.