A Pak 'n Save deli manager was sacked for changing the use-by dates on chickens, it can be revealed.
Mary-Anne Graham was dismissed as manager of the delicatessen and seafood department at the supermarket on Mill St in Hamilton on November 11 last year after instructing a staff member to cook chickens with use-by dates of November 8 and mark them November 9.
The chickens never made it onto the supermarket shelves.
Despite admitting to falsifying the labels, Graham has been awarded nearly $10,000 by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) in lost wages and compensation.
In its decision, released today, the ERA agreed with the company that her actions were capable of amounting to serious misconduct. However, it found that Pak 'N Save owner Gladstone Retail Limited (GRL) failed to give her an adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations.
It heard that upon finding a delivery of chickens had not been used the previous day, Graham examined them, smelled them, and ordered another staff member to cook them and write down November 9.
The staff member did as she was told, but she also talked about her doubts to another employee, who immediately told the store duty manager. The chickens were promptly removed before going on sale.
During the company's investigation, further allegations were levelled against Graham, including that she had instructed staff to put cheese onto pizza when it was past its use-by date. It was also alleged that she had dealt harshly with some staff and berated the employee who told the duty manager about the chickens.
Graham then took sick leave because of the stress she said she was under, but the company held a disciplinary meeting in her absence. Despite the assertion by her legal counsel that she was distraught over the allegations and unable to participate in the process until the following week, Graham was sent a letter of dismissal.
"Cumulatively the defects in its process meant that the decision to go ahead to dismiss Ms Graham, at the time and in the way that it was made, was not within the range of responses open to a fair and reasonable employer at the time," the ERA decision says.
"If GRL's inquiry and decision had proceeded without those defects, it could not now be said with sufficient certainty how different its substantive decision may then have been."
The ERA dismissed an additional application by GRL for a penalty against Graham due to her conduct.
Pak 'n Save Mill St owner-operator Hamish Walton said the breach of food safety standards had the potential to affect hundreds of customers, had it not been for the quick actions of other staff members.
"Our training and policies, and the staff members' quick actions, ensured the product was not put up for sale. The other staff members knew what the employee was doing was wrong and had no hesitation in immediately reporting her," he said.
"Our customers have every right to expect that we have their best interests at heart, and the way we have dealt with this issue clearly demonstrates that we do."
He said that the ERA had found that the business was "clearly committed to a culture where safety standards are followed to ensure consumers are protected".
"An audit conducted immediately following the event demonstrated that the right processes and attitudes are in place in the store to put customer health and well-being first. The business has a zero tolerance for this type of behaviour."