For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here. After months of preparation, and a date finally set for the reopening of Western Australia’s border,…
Firefighter sues bosses after they refuse to let him go part-time to build £50,000 Bilbo Baggins-style hobbit homes
- Matt Wright, 36, wanted to dedicate himself to making the unique tiny houses
- He wanted to only work nights at Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service
- When they rejected it, he then complained and went off sick due to ‘work stress’
- Mr Wright tried to sue the fire service for unfair dismissal but lost his case
- A panel found he was ‘ironically’ inflexible over his flexible working requests
A firefighter sued his bosses after they refused to let him go part-time to build £50,000 Bilbo Baggins-style hobbit homes.
Matt Wright found himself at a ‘crossroads’ in his career when his creations got widespread media coverage and he wanted to dedicate himself to making the tiny The Lord of The Rings homes.
Mr Wright also wanted to focus on running a ‘luxury cat hotel and spa’ with his veterinary surgeon wife, Julie, at their home, a tribunal heard.
He suggested to Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service he could go part-time by working night shifts only but complained when they rejected it.
The 36-year-old later went off sick due to ‘work stress’ – but said he could still carry out jobs on his two businesses, a panel heard.
Mr Wright, who gained carpentry skills after working as an engineer in the army, told his GP he found building the eco-friendly adult versions of Bilbo’s Bag End – which come with a 125 year guarantee – a ‘relaxing’ activity.
He later resigned from the fire service when his part-time requests were not accommodated and even moaned he was ‘harassed and victimised’.
Now, Mr Wright has tried to sue the service for unfair dismissal but lost his case after a panel found he was ‘ironically’ inflexible when it came to his flexible working requests.
Matt Wright found himself at a ‘crossroads’ in his career when his creations got widespread media coverage and he wanted to dedicate himself to making the tiny The Lord of The Rings homes
Mr Wright, who gained carpentry skills after working as an engineer in the army, told his GP he found building the eco-friendly adult versions of Bilbo’s Bag End – which come with a 125 year guarantee – a ‘relaxing’ activity
The tribunal also ruled Mr Wright had been in breach of his fire service contract by ‘downplaying’ his so-called ‘hobby business’ to bosses, when he had in fact quietly acquired almost £200,000 worth of assets.
After joining the service in 2009, Mr Wright set up Limegrove Cattery based his home in Mansfield, Notts, in 2015.
The panel heard it was a ‘successful and profitable’ business and on its website it advertises cats nail clipping and an ‘anal gland expression’ service for £5 each.
Mr Wright first applied to reduce his hours by 50 per cent in 2017 – the same year he set up Hobbit House Limited – as he ‘loved’ his job but needed to support his wife.
The tribunal held remotely from Nottingham heard only a minority – up to 30 per cent – of firefighters have a second job, with the panel finding it ‘extremely rare’ for them to work part time.
The tribunal heard Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service ‘responded favourably’ to his part-time application and tried to accommodate it, however it just ‘could not be implemented’.
The fire service could not find a candidate willing to complete the other 50 per cent of his work.
After Mr Wright submitted a second application in 2019 which again failed, he was signed off with stress at work for two months.
The panel read his GP notes that said he enjoyed ‘cattery and building garden structures’ as they are ‘relaxing and beneficial’ activities which was deemed ‘totally unacceptable’ by the service.
The tribunal found his bosses’ reaction ‘unsurprising’.
After long spells of complicated negotiations, Mr Wright filed a grievance saying he had ‘lost all confidence in the service’ and claimed he and his wife felt ‘harassed in their own home’ at being threatened with serious conduct issues.
He quit due to ‘being subjected to unreasonable and unfair treatment’ after he lost his grievance and appeal.
The Hobbit House website said they could be permanent houses, garden offices, classrooms, hot tub rooms or playhouses
At the employment tribunal, Mr Wright unsuccessfully tried to sue for claims of detriment, victimisation, unfair dismissal and breach of contract.
Employment Judge Robert Clark concluded: ‘We are not surprised that… [the] response to the proposal that he take two months paid sick leave yet was well enough to continue working in two other businesses was ‘totally unacceptable’.
‘Despite Mr Wright’s views of what he says it should have done, we have been satisfied that the service has responded favourably to his application to reduce his working hours.
‘There is an irony in this case that at various stages it has seemed Mr Wright was himself somewhat inflexible in his flexible working request and that his request has been viewed as trumping the needs and considerations of the service.
‘Throughout this case, Mr Wright has insisted on calling his activities a ‘hobby business’. We take the view that that label is irrelevant save to the extent that it demonstrated to us that Mr Wright has sought to downplay the nature of this interest and activity.
‘We also record our observation that there have been numerous occasions where aspects of what was happening in Mr Wright’s business interests would appear to have potentially been in conflict with his primary obligations to the service.
‘There may even be reasonable cause for doubt about Mr Wright’s real motivations behind his applications.’
The judge questioned Mr Wright’s motives behind his applications, suggesting they may have been ‘part of a plan to use the fire service to financially support a transition to self-sufficiency in his business interests’.
Source: Read Full Article