The boss of an upmarket pet food business has been ordered to pay £20,000 to a middle-aged sales assistant after he accused her of going through the menopause.
David Fletcher, the owner of Embark on Raw which specialises in raw meals for dogs and cats, was found to have shouted during a “relatively small argument” that Leigh Best “must be in her menopause”.
Best, 52, had worked at the business near Billericay, Essex, since 2019. She told an employment tribunal that Fletcher had made the remark even after Best had covered her ears and said “I don’t want to hear about it” when a customer mentioned having a “hot flush”.
When she complained about Fletcher’s comments to his wife, who co-owned the business, Best was told to “stop moaning” and a month later she was sacked.
Best, who now owns her own raw dog and cat food business, Rawkings Premium, successfully sued the husband and wife bosses and will receive the payout on the grounds of age and sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.
The tribunal found that Fletcher had broached a “highly sensitive topic” and acted “tactlessly” when he asked Best about the menopause.
The hearing in east London was told that an argument between the sales assistant and her boss started over an order.
The tribunal was told that Fletcher “made inappropriate and derogatory comments about her age and remarks, relevant to her sex as a woman, relating to his perception or guess that she might be menopausal or be experiencing stereotypical menopausal symptoms”.
The tribunal found that Fletcher made the comments “even after . . . she had made it quite clear that she did not wish to participate in any such discussion”.
When Best complained to the co-owner about her husband’s comment, the co-owner became “alarmed” as the accusation “would reflect badly on her own husband” and the business, the tribunal concluded.
The wife told Best: “You’ve got to stop moaning and you’ve got to talk to people with respect . . . you’ve got to stop trying to blame people.”
The tribunal heard that before her complaint Best had raised concerns about the way the business and staff were dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. As it was classed as an essential business, the pet food shop remained open during lockdowns.
Although the Fletchers assured customers that the business was following hygiene procedures Best claimed they were not implemented and enforced. The panel was told that she was “extremely worried” that neither the management nor the staff were consistently following the relevant rules.
That led to the wife accusing Best of creating “a divide in the business, in your words and your actions to other people”. It was during that conversation that Best raised her concerns about Fletcher’s menopause comments.
The tribunal found that when Fletcher was told of that discussion, he told his wife “it’s time to let her go now”. Best was dismissed for being “rude” and “confrontational”.
The tribunal ruled that the shop assistant had been sacked for raising her Covid concerns and then victimised for complaining about Fletcher’s behaviour.
She will receive £20,057.74 in compensation.