Factory worker dismissed after face mask row

PUBLISHED: 06:48 21 May 2020 | UPDATED: 19:01 21 May 2020

Bernard Matthews factory/Joe Pearce.  Picture: Antony Kelly/Joe Pearce

Bernard Matthews factory/Joe Pearce. Picture: Antony Kelly/Joe Pearce

Antony Kelly/Joe Pearce

A Bernard Matthews worker was suspended for wearing a face mask and then sacked when he vented his anger on Facebook.

Joseph Pearce, a former employee at Bernard Matthews, was suspended for wearing a face mask to work. Photo: Joe PearceJoseph Pearce, a former employee at Bernard Matthews, was suspended for wearing a face mask to work. Photo: Joe Pearce

Joe Pearce, 35 from Norwich, was dismissed from Bernard Matthew’s Great Witchingham site in April for posting on social media about his suspension.

According to letters sent by the company to Mr Pearce, he was suspended for “repeatedly wearing a face mask in the workplace, which is against company guidelines”.

He was dismissed after he then displayed “threatening and abusive behaviour against the company on social media”.

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Bernard Matthews factory.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYBernard Matthews factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

But Mr Pearce called the whole process an “outrage”.

In response, Bernard Matthews said it had put in place an “extensive range” of measures” to keep staff safe.

A spokesperson said: “This has encompassed social distancing outside all production areas to intensive and regular deep clean sessions of all areas - including regular touch points and a reinforcing of the already high levels of hand hygiene and sanitising regimes.

“Where possible we have also adjusted work patterns and flow rates in production areas to minimise social interaction.”

But Mr Pearce said the company’s guidelines “didn’t make sense”.

He said: “I started wearing a face mask to work once lockdown was announced, but was told you can’t wear facemasks on the factory floor.

“I have asthma, and have lost my cousin to coronavirus, so this to me just seemed madness that I could be suspended for protecting myself.”

He added: “We could only wear company-provided PPE, but a lot of us didn’t feel safe. When I went to HR they were dismissive.”

Another former employee of the company, 21-year-old Tyler Howes, has also been dismissed on account of his mother posting a picture of the Great Witchingham site’s corridors online.

Mr Howes’ disciplinary letter said he had “caused damage to the company’s reputation”.

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He said: “In truth, they did well regulating some spaces when lockdown was announced, with crosses on the floor in the smoking area and a ‘one person to a table policy’ in the canteen - but the factory floor and corridors were just mayhem.

“I went to HR about it but their response was that if I didn’t feel comfortable I didn’t have to go to work.

“That’s not an option for people who need the money to survive.”

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