Saturday Kitchen’s Aktar Islam slams’ ‘selfish’ pregnant employee who wrongly accused him of unfair dismissal – forcing him to close his restaurant and pay £51,000 in legal defence costs

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  • EXCLUSIVE: Akhtar Islam slams a ‘selfish’ ex-employee
  • She ‘destroyed mental health’ after claiming she was fired because she was pregnant
  • The Saturday Kitchen star said Sarah Covey asked for £34,900 in January 2020 after leaving her job as assistant general manager and Legana restaurant.
  • Speaking for the first time about the closure of the restaurant, the father’s father revealed how he struggled with ‘tremendous financial, mental and emotional stress’.

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Saturday Kitchen star Akhtar Islam has revealed how he was forced to close his critically acclaimed restaurant Legna and spend £51,000 of his own money to protect himself against false claims He had wrongly dismissed a pregnant employee.

The 41-year-old chef, who won Great British Menu in 2011 and Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word a year earlier, won an employment tribunal battle last month after his former assistant general manager Sarah Covey claimed that she was pregnant. They were fired.

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Aktar – which runs Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Opheem in Birmingham as well as Argentine steakhouse Pulperia – shocked the culinary world when its upmarket Italian restaurant suddenly closed in January 2020.

Now, speaking exclusively to FEMAIL he has revealed that he felt ‘extorted’ out of £34,900 by his former employee – whom he hired because of his close relationship with his long-term partner. He also revealed that the fight ‘completely devastated’ his mental health.

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Speaking for the first time about the closure of the restaurant, the father’s father explained how he has been battling ‘tremendous financial, mental and emotional stress’ to clear his name in an uphill three-year battle.

She believes the claims against her were baseless as Ms Kauwi was let go because of her ‘poor performance’ before being sacked.

He said he has been battling “tremendous financial, mental and emotional stress” to clear his name in a tough three-year battle.

Saturday Kitchen star Akhtar Islam has revealed how he was forced to close his critically acclaimed restaurant Legna and spend £51,000 of his own money to protect himself against false claims He had wrongly dismissed a pregnant employee.

Ms. Covey (pictured) was appointed as an assistant general manager at Aktar's Legana restaurant with effect from 22 October 2018, having previously served as deputy manager for Mitchell & Butler's Pub Group.  She is pictured with her partner Ben Ternant

Ms. Covey (pictured) was appointed as an assistant general manager at Aktar’s Legana restaurant with effect from 22 October 2018, having previously served as deputy manager for Mitchell & Butler’s Pub Group. She is pictured with her partner Ben Ternant

The former F Word winner told Femme: ‘Once Legana was dissolved I was allowed to be brought personally by the tribunal, although in my opinion and in the opinion of my legal advisors, the evidence was quite clear. that it was a baseless claim. It really put a lot of pressure on me mentally and I was questioning the whole process and how it looks like it is designed to extort money from employers.

‘I didn’t do anything wrong, the business was dissolved yet I was allowed to bring in in person.

‘I worry about those who may have found themselves in a similar situation without the ability to defend themselves. What if the pandemic killed my businesses, so I would be in debt to continue defending myself?’

He said the case could ‘make or break his career’ and ran for three years during the pandemic, which devastated the hospitality industry.

He claimed that the funds used could have been used to protect 100 jobs at his restaurant, which, like many others in hospitality, were closed for over a year.

Ms. Kouwi was appointed as an assistant general manager at Aktar’s Legana restaurant with effect from 22 October 2018, having previously served as deputy manager for Mitchell & Butler’s Pub Group.

The pair mutually agreed to a probation period of three months, even though the standard period within the industry is six months.

Ms Kauwi had been expressed several times in November and December about her performance – which Akhtar described as ‘poor’.

In January 2019, at the end of her probation, Ms. Covey was informed that her employment as Assistant General Manager would not continue due to concerns about her job performance.

A picture of Aktar as seen at the Saturday Kitchen with Jennifer Saunders in 2017

A picture of Aktar as seen in the Saturday Kitchen with Jennifer Saunders in 2017

They were offered three optional roles within the company, with pay similar to theirs or up to 40 percent higher, along with training funded and administered by restaurants.

Sarah also expressed interest in other members of staff regarding other roles within the business that were not frontline hospitality.

Akhtar said he gave Sara ‘extra support’ as she had a close relationship with her partner Ben Ternant, who has been her friend for more than 10 years.

Ben also works as a chef in Birmingham and will soon be opening his own restaurant, Chapter, in the city.

When did Sarah get pregnant and when was she fired from Legana’s job?

  • December 13: Authorized recruiting agent to find replacement
  • 17 December Advertisements placed on the caterer to replace Sara
  • 4 January Executive Management Team Established
  • 8 January Further advertisements placed
  • 23 January Sara verbally informed Akhtar that she was pregnant (1-2 weeks late in the period)
  • 26 January Sara confirms pregnancy in writing
  • 30 January End of probation meeting as per contract. Sarah offered three non-management roles
  • January 30 (afternoon) Sarah leaves the business, is denied job notice and there is no discussion about the alternative roles offered.
  • February 1 Sarah appoints solicitors and files her claim with ACAS. less than 48 hours have elapsed since the end of his probationary meeting

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The relationship led to ‘a lot of leniency and exceptions were made for Sara’, Akhtar said.

Sarah received additional support and was allowed to complete her probation period by the end of January, rather than leaving with her co-manager in late December.

However, the decision to replace Sara was taken in six weeks i.e. on 13th December.

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