A former Nosh franchise employee has been awarded nearly $15,000 after being found to have been wrongfully sacked for unsubstantiated complaints she mishandled food.
Among the allegations levelled against 19-year-old Stacey Sissons by her bosses was an email from a customer that a "blonde girl" had served her sausages without gloves on. Sissons was blamed despite there having been two blondes working that day.
According an the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision, released today, Sissons worked in the delicatessen section of Nosh Mount Maunganui between January and November 2016.
In October that year the deli manager called her to a meeting about three emails the store had received about poor service.
She was not shown these emails but the manager told her he would give her a good reference if she handed in a notice of resignation.
She prepared a resignation letter that evening but, after consulting her stepfather, arranged a meeting with the manager, who showed them the emails.
"They contained complaints about four staff. One said the staff members talked too much
and took too long to serve the food. Another said one staff member with no gloves on
had handed a customer a slice of salami. The third said the staff had a negative
attitude," the ERA decision says.
The manager then gave Sissons a pre-prepared letter suspending her from work.
Three days later Sissons and her stepfather met with company Joanne Blennerhassett, who said she had done an "extensive investigation" and found Sissons to be at fault.
"She refused to disclose any evidence of her investigation. She said Ms Sissons was to get a final written warning. No such warning was ever issued," the ERA's decision says.
"On 5 November Ms Sissons was called to Mrs Blennerhassett's office and told
a customer who had purchased sausages at the store had complained that 'a blond girl
in the deli … served me with no gloves on'."
Sissons denied she had handled sausages in the way complained about. However she said Blennerhassett had told her that she "can't keep having these complaints so I am sorry we have to let you go".
Before leaving the store she asked another store manager to print off a copy of the email complaint.
"After leaving work she read that email and noticed it made no reference to 'a blond girl' as Mrs Blennerhassett had told her. Ms Sissons has blond hair but said she was one of two women with blond hair working that day in any event."
Sissons then asked for the reasons for her dismissal to be provided in writing, but this was not done.
ERA member Robin Arthur found the business did not meet the statutory test of justification for dismissal.
"She was not provided with all the information of concern to her employer and was not given a reasonable opportunity to respond to those concerns," she said.
"There was no evidence available to the authority's investigation to support a conclusion that those concerns were sufficiently investigated or that a fair and reasonable employer could have come to a conclusion that Ms Sissons had committed either misconduct or poor performance in food handling that could have justified her dismissal."
Sissons, who was 19 at the time of the dismissal, submitted that the dismissal resulted in her withdrawing from social activity with friends spent most evenings with her family in the following weeks, which was unusual, and she was often in tears.
"She took pride in living independently in her own flat and found herself 'pretty much
struggling from day to day' without money for food or gas. Her confidence in seeking other work was knocked as she came to doubt she could please future employers," the decision says.
She was awarded $3178 in lost wages, $1685 holiday pay owing, $10,000 compensation and a further $2072 towards her legal costs.
Although it operated under the now-defunct Nosh brand, Nosh Mount Maunganui was run by the Good Food Trading Company (GFTC) as a franchise and was not part of the wider Nosh business that had a number of other stores around the country.
GTFC went into liquidation in December last year.
No-one from the company participated in the ERA's meetings. The directors are being sought for comment.