While the cat’s away… watch out for the ‘games’ employees play

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QWI v The Great Gatsby Limited

A nightmare scenario for any employer is the staff getting up to mischief when the boss goes on leave, which is what happened here.

Ms Buttula is the owner of The Great Gatsby Ltd, a restaurant in Raumati where QWI was the head chef. While Buttula was on holiday in Fiji she received a message from a friend who was in her restaurant and said one of the staff related …that there is some difficulty with your head chef, who he claims is causing problems and had offered to sell him “p”.

A week later Buttula returned to NZ and told QWI of the allegation which she flatly denied. Buttula then asked the original informant and four other staff if any of them had been offered methamphetamine by QWI. Both the original person and one other staff member acknowledged that she had made the offer to them. She was also informed that, during her absence QWI had been using stock for her own purposes and encouraged another staff member to do so. As a result of this, Buttula put notices on the stock that it was for company use only.

When QWI arrived at work, she ripped the notices off and said to Buttula that the accusation of theft meant that she was not going to work and she left. When QWI arrived at work the following day Buttula ‘told her that anyone who was offering drugs to [her]staff would not be tolerated in [her]kitchen. [She] told her she was being dismissed immediately for this reason.’

Understandably, QWI took a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal, and equally as understandably, Buttula defended her action and would not compromise.

The Authority was quick to reach a conclusion that the process for the dismissal fell woefully short of the expected standard, even for a small employer with limited access to resources. Buttula did not put the full details of the accusations to QWI and did not give her a chance to respond to the allegations or the intention to dismiss her. As a result, the dismissal was found to be unjustified. However, it wasn’t left there.

QWI sought three months lost wages and $10,000 compensation for hurt and humiliation. The Authority however concluded ‘if there is misconduct by an applicant employee that is outrageous, particularly egregious or disgraceful I should consider whether it is appropriate to award any remedies. In doing so I note that if QWI did offer drugs as alleged I would have no qualms in concluding she acted in a way that would have provided a substantive justification for dismissal’.

The Authority then went on to explore the information around the allegations and to conclude that, had Buttula conducted a proper investigation, she would have reached the conclusion that QWI had acted as alleged.

As a result, the Authority concluded that there should be no remedies awarded to QWI.

Any employer reading this would have sympathy for Buttula and would be tempted to take action and to hell with the consequences. In fact, it might have been a commercially savvy decision, instead of wasting time and resources on an investigation and disciplinary process, which would inevitably be disruptive and unsettling for the staff, she took action and took her chances. It is not a strategy for those who are risk averse.

At the very least, Buttula needed to put the information she had to QWI, including who had made the allegations and give her an opportunity to answer them. She also needed to seek her feedback on the proposal to dismiss before making her decision. A thoroughly safe process would also include giving QWI the allegations in writing and an opportunity to bring a support person or representative along to the meeting.

Equally it was a high risk strategy for QWI. Although she has name suppression, it won’t take much for any prospective employer to recognise that she worked for The Great Gatsby at around the same time and make some enquiries. A standard google search won’t bring her name up because of the name suppression order from the Authority, but it isn’t much protection for her reputation.

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About Author

Anne Aitken

Anne Aitken is a highly experienced Human Resources professional who focuses on helping employers strengthen their organisations through working with their people. email: anne@anneaitken.co.nz | www.anneaitken.co.nz

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