Sushi counter owner Sumin Lohani (pictured) messaged his partner Hemanta Mainali after midnight
A Waitrose sushi chef has sued his employer for harassment after his boss Whatsapped him the staff rota after midnight.
Hemanta Mainali was furious after being woken up in the early hours of a Saturday morning, an employment tribunal heard.
He told majority shareholder Sumin Lohani it was ‘very wrong’ to bother him at that time of night, replying to the message ‘Go f*** yourself’.
Mr Mainali claimed that the message had been sent directly to him – not to a group chat – and was a ‘deliberate attempt to disturb him’ and even ‘encourage him to leave’.
The tribunal heard that his relationship with Mr Lohani deteriorated so badly that a fortnight later, the pair ended up having a violent confrontation in public at the sushi counter of the upmarket supermarket.
He ended up leaving the business and sued his former partner claiming he had been forced out as part of a deliberate campaign.
However, his case has been thrown out after a judge ruled that Mr Lohani had not meant to disturb him on purpose by sending the message after midnight.
The two men owned the sushi counter at a Waitrose supermarket in Godalming, Surrey
The Watford hearing was told Mr Mainali owned 30 per cent of the firm which operated the sushi kiosk at Waitrose in Godalming, Surrey, with Mr Lohani owning the rest.
The pair had known each other since childhood and they had both come from the same village in Nepal.
The chef started working at the supermarket in June 2018 and was paid £1500 a month, the tribunal heard.
However, the friendship between the two became ‘strained’ in January 2020 when Mr Lohani sent a rota for the upcoming week to several employees via WhatsApp in the early hours of a Saturday morning.
The pair reportedly had a violent confrontation in the shop
The tribunal heard: ‘On 4 January 2020, at about 00:29, Mr Lohani sent out the rota for the following week. He sent it to the employees of (the company) who would be working at the kiosk that week, including [Mr Mainali].
‘He sent it via WhatsApp. He did not send it to [Mr Mainali] only. He did not choose the time of sending to annoy [Mr Mainali] or anyone else.
‘He had thought that people would read the message when convenient to them, and had not expected them to read/respond straight away (and no response was necessarily required, unless there was a problem working the specified shifts).
‘[Mr Mainali’s] phone made a sound when this message was received. That had not been Mr Lohani’s intention; he had simply given no thought to that possibility. [Mr Mainali] and his family were asleep, and were disturbed by the phone alert.’
The tribunal heard he angrily responded ‘This is very wrong to post at midnight. Go f*** yourselves’, to which Mr Lohani replied ‘Watch your mouth, I didn’t ask you to check now’.
Several weeks later the two had an angry confrontation at the sushi counter.
Mr Lohani accused Mr Mainali of ‘becoming very aggressive and trying to punch him’ while holding a knife in his hand – while the chef said his business partner tried to headbutt him while ‘block[ing] his escape route’.
The tribunal found that both men’s account of the incident was exaggerated and only involved some ‘pushing and shoving’.
‘Between the two of them before matters became too overheated, there was a realisation that having a very aggressive interaction in Waitrose during opening hours was not sensible for themselves as individuals, or for their business venture,’ the panel found.
The hearing was told Mr Mainali left the business – New Godalming Sushi Ltd – at the end of the month.
He took the company to the tribunal claiming to have been the victim of a ‘campaign’ to force him out of his job.
He said he had been discriminated against due to ‘mental health issues which include anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks’, and claimed he had been ‘bullied and verbally abused in front of staff’.
However, his complaints of harassment and disability discrimination were dismissed.
Of the early hours Whatsapp message, Employment Judge Patrick Quill said Mr Mainali had ‘suggested that the WhatsApp message of 4 January was a deliberate attempt to disturb him, and perhaps encourage him to leave. We find that that is not the case.
‘Even if [he] is right in his belief that it was sent to his own contact address, not just to the group contact address, that does not indicate that he was being targeted or deliberately disturbed at night.
‘As a co-owner of (the business) and somebody also responsible for drawing up rotas, there is nothing suspicious about the item being sent to him directly (if that was in fact the case).’
However, Mr Mainali’s complaint that he was forced to leave without his contracted 6 months notice period was found by the tribunal to be a breach of contract.
He is entitled to damages, and the parties have been left to agree an ‘appropriate sum’ among themselves.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
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