A cafe employee has been awarded $25,000 in compensation after she was unjustifiably dismissed.
A cafe worker who said she was bullied by management, then sent a text that told her to “shut the shop and go home. You’re fired” halfway through her shift has been awarded $25,000 compensation.
Alice Cooper was a cafe assistant at Sprout Cafe in Whangārei, operated by Sweet Greens, from January 2020 to July 2022. The cafe has since closed down.
Cooper told the Employment Relations Authority that she was unfairly treated when working at the cafe and was unfairly dismissed. Sweet Greens, directed by Emily MacFarlane, disputed Cooper’s claims.
Cooper had extensive hospitality experience, having worked for more than 30 years in New Zealand and Australia, including as a chef and managing restaurants. MacFarlane had other work and so was not usually at the cafe but her husband spent periods of time as the manager.
Initially, Cooper felt she had a good friendly relationship with MacFarlane and the manager, but after a while she perceived the manager was berating and belittling her, sometimes in front of others, as well as micromanaging, with extensive task lists left on a white board but additional frequent surveillance of her activities both in person and by phone calls if he was not on site.
Incidents included a time she was yelled at in front of customers and staff by the manager and told to go home for not making coffee properly. The manager called her “bloody useless”.
Other staff mentioned to Cooper that they made mistakes sometimes but were not subjected to the same harsh treatment she was. Cooper raised her concerns with MacFarlane in mid-2021. Another staff member also expressed her view to MacFarlane that her husband was picking on Cooper.
MacFarlane reported that her husband was going to stop such behaviour but little else was known about what MacFarlane did, if anything. Authority member Nicola Craig said it was not evident that satisfactory steps were taken by Sweet Greens.
Cooper was then dismissed from the job in July 2022. She had arrived to open up the cafe and found notes all around the cafe about what to do. At about 6.30am, the husband called her. There was an issue about whether she had carried out the cooking of chicken and vegetables in the order he prescribed. He hung up.
How the Employment Relations Authority works. (Video first published in June 2021)
A few minutes later he called back, saying he had spoken to his wife, and they had agreed to fire Ms Cooper on the spot. He told her to “shut the shop and go home. You’re fired”. Two weeks later, she received a dismissal letter.
Craig said the detailed dismissal letter coming so long after the actual termination appeared to be a belated attempt to justify the dismissal announced very much in haste.
“The process was also significantly inadequate. Ms Cooper was dismissed over the phone without any notice of a disciplinary process being activated.
“She was only given a minimal chance to be heard, before Ms Macfarlane’s husband hung up. The lengthy disciplinary letter was not sent for a long time after the dismissal and can be seen as an ex post facto attempt to justify a spontaneous decision taken without fair process. Sweet Greens did not act as a fair and reasonable employer could have done.
“Ms Cooper felt crushed by the way she was treated when at the cafe. Her health was impacted with medical support being sought at least twice. Ms Cooper describes her treatment in the workplace as making her head numb, her hands shaky and giving her a sense that she did not want to be where she was. She felt like she was in a dark place, feeling nothing but worthless.”
Craig also ruled Sweet Greens failed to keep adequate time records for staff. Cooper was provided with payslips when at although not always on a consistent basis, and the payslips did not include her address, her employment agreement status or hours worked.
Sweet Greens was ordered to pay Cooper $8066.60 for lost wages and $25,000 as compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.
For the breach in records, it was ordered to pay $1000 to the authority with $500 of the money received to be paid into a Crown account and $500 forwarded to Cooper.