Firefighter sues bosses after refusing to let him go part-time to build hobbit houses


A firefighter has sued his bosses after refusing to let him go part-time to build £ 50,000 Bilbo Baggins-style hobbit houses.

Matt Wright found himself at a “crossroads” in his career when his designs received wide media attention and he wanted to devote himself to making the tiny houses of The Lord of the Rings.

Mr Wright also wanted to focus on running a “luxury cat hotel and spa” with his veterinarian wife Julie at their home, a court said.

He suggested to the Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service that he could work part-time working only nights, but complained when they rejected him.

The 36-year-old then fell ill from “stress at work” – but said he could still do jobs at his two companies, a panel heard.

Mr Wright, who learned carpentry skills after working as an engineer in the military, told his GP that he found building the environmentally friendly adult versions of Bilbo’s Bag End – which are backed by a 125 year warranty – a “relaxing” activity.

He then quit the fire department when his demands for part-time work were not met and even moaned that he was “harassed and victimized”.

Now Mr Wright has tried to sue the service for unfair dismissal, but lost his case after a panel found he was “ironically” adamant about his demands for flexible work.

Matt Wright found himself at a “crossroads” in his career when his designs received wide media attention and wanted to devote himself to making the tiny houses of The Lord of the Rings.

Mr Wright, who learned carpentry skills after working as an engineer in the military, told his GP he found building the environmentally friendly adult versions of Bilbo’s Bag End – which are assorted a 125 year guarantee – a “relaxing” activity

The court also ruled that Mr Wright had breached his fire service contract by ‘downplaying’ his so-called ‘leisure activity’ in the eyes of the bosses, when he had in fact quietly acquired nearly £ 200,000 of assets.

After joining the service in 2009, Mr. Wright established Limegrove Cattery based in Mansfield, Notts, in 2015.

The panel heard it was a “successful and profitable” business and on its website advertises cat nail clipping and an “anal gland expression” service. for £ 5 each.

Mr Wright first asked to cut his hours by 50% in 2017 – the same year he started Hobbit House Limited – because he ‘loved’ his job but needed to support his wife.

The remote Nottingham court heard only a minority – up to 30% – of firefighters have second jobs, with the panel finding it “extremely rare” for them to work part-time.

The court heard that the Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service had “responded favorably” to his part-time candidacy and attempted to accommodate him, but this “simply could not be implemented”.

The fire department could not find a candidate willing to do the remaining 50 percent of their job.

After Mr Wright submitted a second application in 2019, which was again unsuccessful, he was disconnected from work stress for two months.

The panel read his general practitioner notes which indicated that he enjoyed “the cattery and the construction of garden structures” as they were “relaxing and beneficial” activities which were deemed “totally unacceptable” by the service.

The court found the reaction of its bosses “unsurprising”.

After long periods of complicated negotiations, Mr Wright filed a grievance claiming he had “lost all confidence in the service” and claimed he and his wife felt “harassed in their own home” that they had been threatened. serious driving problems.

He resigned because he “had been subjected to unreasonable and unfair treatment” after losing his grievance and his appeal.

The Hobbit House website said they could be permanent homes, garden offices, classrooms, hot tubs or gambling dens.

In labor court, Mr. Wright unsuccessfully tried to bring legal action for injury, victimization, wrongful dismissal and breach of contract.

Labor judge Robert Clark concluded: “We are not surprised that … [the] the response to the proposal that he would take two months of paid sick leave while still being well enough to continue working at two other companies was “totally unacceptable”.

“Despite Mr. Wright’s opinion of what he said he should have done, we were pleased that the department responded positively to his request to reduce his working hours.

“There is an irony in this case that at different stages it seemed that Mr. Wright himself was somewhat inflexible in his demand for flexible work and that his demand was seen as outweighing the need and service considerations.

“Throughout this matter, Mr. Wright has insisted on characterizing his activities as a ‘hobby.’ We believe that this label is irrelevant except to the extent that it has shown us that Mr. Wright sought to minimize the nature of this interest and activity.

“We also take note of our observation that there were numerous occasions where aspects of what was going on in Mr. Wright’s business interests appeared to have potentially conflicted with his primary obligations to the service.

“There may even be reasonable grounds to doubt Mr. Wright’s real motives behind his nominations.”

The judge questioned Mr Wright’s motives behind his demands, suggesting they may be “part of a plan to use firefighters to financially support a transition to self-sufficiency in his business interests.”


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