A Wellington restaurant has been found to have unjustifiably dismissed its former head chef, despite the chef's attempt to sell methamphetamine to co-workers.
The restaurant owner was in Fiji on March 1, 2016 when she received a disturbing text message from a friend and regular customer.
The friend said they'd just had a "troubling conversation" with a member of staff, who said the head chef had been causing problems and offering staff meth.
"You might want to have your people look at this," the message said.
"[The worker] fears that this individual will damage the [restaurant's] reputation.
The owner decided she couldn't do anything until she returned to Wellington, but when she came back on March 8, she went straight to the restaurant and told the chef of the allegation she was offering drugs at work.
The chef, who has name suppression, denied the allegations, telling the owner, "I can look you in the eye and deny that".
Over the next few days, the owners spoke with other staff members, with two confirming incidents where drugs were offered.
The first staff member said the chef had offered for him to "come and partake" methamphetamine, before offering to sell him some.
A second employee said there'd been an incident where the chef suggested she came to her home for "a smoke, beer, or crack".
Further accusations were made that stock had gone missing. Some employees said the chef had been using the stock for her own purposes and encouraging others to do the same.
On the March 11 the chef arrived for her rostered shift at 10am. She said the owner was standing at the bar, and told her to leave.
The chef said the owner told her the kitchen staff didn't want her there, and she had to leave immediately.
The owner said she told the chef anyone offering drugs to her staff would not be tolerated in her kitchen, and she was being immediately dismissed.
The owner confirmed the chef was not given a chance to respond. The firing was later confirmed by a letter dated March 22.
The Employment Relations Authority has now ruled the dismissal was unjustified.
Employers are legally required to express their concerns, then allow the employee to respond, with the employer required to consider that response with an open mind.
ERA member Mike Loftus said the owner's own evidence showed she hadn't complied with that.
There was no discussion when the chef was told she was dismissed.
The chef also wasn't told the full detail of the accusations, and no considered response was able to be given.
Loftus said that meant the dismissal was unjustified.
The chef sought three months wages, and $10,000 in compensation.
However, Loftus denied the chef any compensation or payment, finding that "on the balance of probability she did as alleged".
Loftus noted that the two other employees made similar allegations against the chef.
The authority is only required to make decisions on the balance of probability, and is not held to the same standard as a criminal law matter.
While Loftus didn't award the chef any payment, he did grant her name suppression.