Sacked waiter just wants to move on

By Ben Chapman-Smith, Matthew Backhouse

Owners of The Hardware Cafe in Auckland's Titirangi were ordered to pay a staff member $10,000 after firing him for allegedly stealing money.  Photo / Janna Dixon
Owners of The Hardware Cafe in Auckland's Titirangi were ordered to pay a staff member $10,000 after firing him for allegedly stealing money. Photo / Janna Dixon

A waiter sacked from a popular Auckland cafe for allegedly stealing a $15 tip wants to move on with his life after a "horrible" ordeal to clear his name.

Rhys Pollock has been awarded more than $10,000 after the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found he was unjustifiably fired from the Hardware Cafe in Titirangi.

Mr Pollock was shocked and distressed when cafe co-owner Theresa Gore put the allegation of theft to him in full view of customers and other staff, after he finished his shift on January 14 this year.

Ms Gore alleged two of Mr Pollock's colleagues had seen him take money from the till and put it in his pocket during his shift a week earlier.

He was unable to think clearly or recall the incident and was sacked immediately.

Mr Pollock said he was devastated about being dismissed and spent the next few days trying to recall the incident. He told the ERA he knew he had definitely not stolen any money.

Several days after being sacked, Mr Pollock remembered the incident on January 7, one of the cafe's busiest days.

He had served a family who had been billed $85, which the father paid for with a $100 note.

But when Mr Pollock processed the payment, he forgot to give the customer his $15 change. He apologised but was told by the father to keep the change.

Mr Pollock went back to the till, took out the $15 cash and put it in his pocket as a tip.

He believed he was entitled to keep the tip because it was given to him personally and because that had been standard practice in his previous hospitality jobs, the ERA said.

Mr Pollock told APNZ it was "just horrible" when the allegation was put to him.

"It was really bad - not the nicest situation to be in. I didn't know what she was talking about, to be honest."

The struggle to clear his name since then had been "a long, drawn-out, horrible process".

Mr Pollock said Ms Gore was at fault and had wronged him, but he was grateful for the three months of "very positive employment" she had given him.

"It's finally over now and I'd rather let the whole thing go to rest. It's just time to move on with my life.

"I hope Theresa has the best of luck for her future endeavours."

Ms Gore did not want to comment to APNZ in detail, but said people would make their own decisions.

"I think people know my integrity as an employer and we'll take it from there," she said.

"I've been in business for 16 and a half years and this is a one-off.'

ERA member Rachel Larmer ruled Mr Pollock should be awarded $4662.50 in lost wages and $5400 for distress compensation.

In her determination, Ms Larmer said because The Hardware Cafe had not checked or retained till receipts for January 7, it could not corroborate or disprove Mr Pollock's explanation about the personal tip.

The cafe also failed to investigate the day's total takings against the till receipts, and was actually $11 up on January 7.

Furthermore, the cafe failed to obtain written statements from the witnesses or to consider that Mr Pollock made no attempt to conceal his actions when he took the $15.

"Mr Pollock removed the money openly whilst another staff member was standing at the till in front of customers in the busy cafe.

"It would be unusual for an employee who wished to steal from their employer to act in the manner Mr Pollock did."

As a result of his dismissal Mr Pollock could not afford to stay in the flat he was renting and had to move in with his parents until he could find a new job.

"It was clear from Mr Pollock's evidence that he was extremely distressed by his unjustified dismissal," Ms Larmer said.

"He told me he loved his job and was devastated to lose it, particularly in the circumstances he did. He was very upset that Mrs Gore failed to give him a chance to explain himself or to clear his name."

- APNZ

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