Cafe worker unfairly given the chop, authority rules

A  hospitality worker who was fired after her boss took issue with how she chopped parsley has won her case in the Employment Relations Authority.

Karen Smith worked for Scott McCreanor as a kitchen hand and cafe assistant in his cafe and catering business Sweet as a Nut in the Dunedin Central Police Station. ERA member Andrew Dallas found Ms Smith was unjustifiably dismissed and Mr McCreanor was ordered to pay $2689 reimbursement for wages, and $7000 compensation for humiliation and hurt feelings.

Mr Dallas suggested he would have awarded more compensation if it had been sought.

"This was a modest amount when having regard to the recent upward trend of awards in the authority and the court. It is, however, not possible to award an amount greater than claimed."

The parsley chopping incident occurred in July 2016, about 17 months after Ms Smith started working for Mr McCreanor.

He claimed Ms Smith was chopping parsley in an unsafe way, using a 40cm knife on a chopping board that was sitting on two benches. Mr McCreanor said there was no solid surface supporting most of the chopping board.

In response, Ms Smith stopped chopping the parsley in the manner considered unsafe.

However Mr McCreanor gave Ms Smith a letter the next day accusing her of serious misconduct and proposing a paid suspension.

He gave her less than two hours to respond.

He also made a further two complaints against Ms Smith based on a claimed conversation between Ms Smith and another employee, Jo Bray, about the matter.

Mr Dallas dismissed the evidence arising from the claimed conversation and said a fair and reasonable employer would have done the same.

Of the parsley chopping, Mr Dallas found that contrary to what Mr McCreanor had claimed, he had no health and safety policy to support employees.

Mr McCreanor treated Ms Smith ‘‘unfairly’’ in his investigation of the incident.

The parsley chopping was also not serious enough to warrant dismissal "even if his evidence is to be believed".

Ms Smith had had a 20-year career in hospitality and told the authority she had never been accused of misconduct before.

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