Sushi counter owner Sumin Lohani (pictured) sent a message to his partner Hemanta Mainali after midnight

Sushi chef sued manager for HARASSMENT after being sent rooting on WhatsApp in the early hours of the morning

Sushi counter owner Sumin Lohani (pictured) sent a message to his partner Hemanta Mainali after midnight

A Waitrose sushi chef has sued his employer for harassment after his manager WhatsApped him the staff rotation after midnight.

Hemanta Mainali was furious after being woken early on a Saturday morning, an employment tribunal heard.

He told majority shareholder Sumin Lohani that it was “very wrong” to bother him at that time of night, replying to the message “F*** yourself”.

Mr Mainali claimed 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 Lohani deteriorated so badly that two weeks later the pair ended up having a violent confrontation in public at the sushi counter in the upmarket supermarket.

He ended up leaving the business and suing his former partner, claiming he had been forced out as part of a deliberate campaign.

However, his case has been dismissed after a judge ruled that Lohani had not intended 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 two men owned the sushi counter at a Waitrose supermarket in Godalming, Surrey

The hearing in Watford was told that Mainali owned 30 per cent of the company which ran the Waitrose sushi kiosk in Godalming, Surrey, while Lohani owned the rest.

The couple 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 £1,500 a month, the tribunal heard.

However, the friendship between the two became “strained” in January 2020 when Lohani sent a tour for the coming week to several employees via WhatsApp early on a Saturday morning.

The pair allegedly had a violent confrontation in the store

The pair allegedly had a violent confrontation in the store

The tribunal heard: ‘On 4 January 2020, at approximately 00:29, Lohani sent out the schedule for the following week. He sent it to the employees at (the company) who were to work in the kiosk that week, i.a [Mr Mainali].

“He sent it via WhatsApp. He didn’t send it to [Mr Mainali] only. He didn’t choose the time to send to annoy [Mr Mainali] or somebody else.

“He had thought that people would read the message when it was convenient for them, and had not expected them to read/reply immediately (and no response was necessarily required, unless there was a problem working the specified shifts).

‘[Mr Mainali’s] the phone made a sound when this message was received. That had not been Lohani’s intention; he simply hadn’t considered that possibility. [Mr Mainali] and his family were asleep and disturbed by the phone alert.’

The tribunal heard he angrily replied “This is very wrong to post at midnight. 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.

Lohani accused Mainali of “getting very aggressive and trying to hit him” while holding a knife – while the chef said his business partner tried to hit him on the head while he was “blocking”[ing] his escape route’.

The tribunal found that both men’s account of the incident was exaggerated and merely involved some “pushing and shoving”.

“Between the two, before things got too heated, it was realized that it was not reasonable to have a very aggressive interaction in Waitrose during opening hours for themselves as individuals or for their business,” the panel found.

The hearing was told that Mainali left the business – New Godalming Sushi Ltd – at the end of the month.

He took the company to the tribunal, claiming he was the victim of a “campaign” to force him out of his job.

He said he had been discriminated against because of “mental health issues which include anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks”, and claimed he had been “bullied and verbally abused in front of staff”.

But his complaints of harassment and disability discrimination were rejected.

Of the WhatsApp message in the early hours, Labor Judge Patrick Quill said Mainali had “suggested that the January 4 WhatsApp message was a deliberate attempt to disturb him and perhaps encourage him to leave. We find that is not the case.

‘Although [he] is correct in his belief that it was sent to his own contact address, not just the group’s contact address, which does not indicate that he was targeted or intentionally disturbed on the night.

“As a co-owner of (the business) and also responsible for establishing the order of rotation, there is nothing suspicious about the item being sent to him directly (if indeed that was the case).”

However, Mainali’s complaint that he was forced to leave without his agreed six months’ notice was deemed by the tribunal to be a breach of contract.

He is entitled to damages and the parties have had to agree on an “appropriate amount” between them.

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