Worker fired from crematorium after leaving pet ashes in cremator for a fortnight
He was also found to have deliberately pushed the pet remains to the back of the cremator in an apparent attempt to conceal this. The man’s claim of unfair dismissal from Grimsby Crematorium by North East Lincolnshire Council has failed. An employment tribunal held in September and whose judgement was finalised and published earlier this month concluded that the claimant’s conduct was a fair reason for his dismissal.
Jack Hamilton took his claim of unfair dismissal by the council to an employment tribunal, which sat in Lincoln on September 14. He denied failing to follow the correct procedure to de-ash the cremator. Mr Hamilton also denied that he had deliberately concealed pet ashes from at least a previous cremation by putting it to the back of the cremator.
But the tribunal’s judgment found that there was more than sufficient evidence for the council to decide he had been responsible for failure to de-ash and that remains were deliberately pushed to the back of the cremator.
The core matters behind his dismissal were found by the tribunal to potentially cause “serious reputational damage” to the council and could have risked Grimsby Crematorium losing its licence for pet cremations. The failure to de-ash the pet remains from the cremator was not the only allegation made about Mr Hamilton’s conduct and performance as an employee.
He had not followed health and safety procedures or worn the crematorium’s corporate uniform, and been told about this before. He also arrived to some shifts late and left some early, leading to a user complaint of the crematorium not being open as advertised. This tied into the fraudulent claiming of overtime pay, with Mr Hamilton on certain shifts not logging his late arrival or early departure.
In another incident, a cap or locking screw of the pet cremulator was found dislodged on the floor. When asked if it was safe to use without the cap, Mr Hamilton said “no way” and he “wouldn’t chance it”. Records showed he was the last employee to use the cremator before the defect was noticed. A spent drum of factivate, a chemical reactant used in cremations, was also found once under the cremator that he had been responsible for and this was a fire hazard.
Mr Hamilton began working at the bereavement services at Grimsby Crematorium in October 2019. He got his cremation qualification from the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management in April 2020 after supervised cremation of over 100 human bodies. The council decided to set up a pet crematorium facility in June 2020 and this opened in August 2021.
It was on December 22, 2021, when the crematorium’s manager and another employee found a problem with the pet cremator. They were loading a pet to be cremated only to discover that ashes including bone fragments remained in the machine from at least a previous cremation.
The employment tribunal report states: “The last pet cremation that had taken place had been undertaken by the claimant and what was viewed on that occasion was that remains had been pushed to the back of the cremator and that appeared to be deliberate to try and conceal then”. The manager decided to suspend Mr Hamilton pending disciplinary action.
In his suspension risk assessment before choosing to suspend him, the manager said: “The cremation log showed that Jack [the Claimant] had signed to undertake the last three cremations we had booked with us, the latestone being two weeks prior.
“The accompanying paperwork (daily and weekly machine checks, and cleaning schedule) was not completed on any of the 3 occasions. Members of the team familiar with the operation of the pet cremator, but who were not using it, inferred that the ashes had been left in the machine from the first cremation Jack [the Claimant] undertook at the beginning of December.”
An investigation into this incident as well as health and safety breaches and the failure to complete cremation log documentation took place in January 2022. During this process, other issues including the timekeeping and failure to wear PPE and corporate uniform which managers had raised with Mr Hamilton came to light.
He was alleged to have on one occasion spilt cremated pet remains and left them on the floor. He also allegedly disputed the removal of floral tributes from the crematorium garden. On this latter allegation, Mr Hamilton said he could not remember doing so, but he may have challenged as “banter”.
A disciplinary hearing was held by the council on February 7, 2022, where at its conclusion Mr Hamilton was informed by Chair Lisa Logan, the council’s strategic lead for the environment, he would be dismissed with notice. The subsequent dismissal letter, which he has claimed he never received, confirmed his dismissal on the basis of misconduct and gross misconduct.
At the end of his evidence in response to tribunal questions, he admitted breaching health and safety procedures, which included the factivate drum issue and not replacing the cremulator locking nut.
On the matter of arriving late and leaving early shifts and this not being reflected in his time sheets log resulting in fraudulent overtime, he accepted during the crematorium’s own investigation into his conduct that this had happened on occasion.
There should have been more training provided to become familiar with the different procedure for the pet cremator compared to human cremations, said Mr Hamilton. He argued that dismissal was outside the band of reasonable responses for a reasonable employer and the matter should have been resolved by a lesser sanction and further training instead. It was also claimed there were procedural failings in his dismissal, with not receiving a dismissal letter and not being offered a right of appeal.
However, the employment tribunal found a right of appeal had been clearly offered at the conclusion of his disciplinary hearing, where he was also told he would lose his job and the reasoning why.
The letter of dismissal did go to an incorrect address, but this was after the disciplinary hearing and would not have done so had he updated his address records, of which there was no evidence of doing so.
The tribunal also disagreed with Mr Hamilton’s training contention, finding he had the same training as everyone else and the tribunal was “satisfied he knew what it was that he had to do and how to do it”. They also accepted that he was proficient in human cremations and these were “not materially different” to cremating a pet.
On all disputed allegations, the tribunal found the council had a “reasonable belief” that Mr Hamilton was guilty of the incidents. Headed by Employment Judge Elizabeth Heap, the tribunal was “satisfied that the respondent acted fairly and reasonably in treating the claimant’s conduct as a fair reason for his dismissal”.