Kitchen 'battle zone' prompts payout

BRIAN CROXFORD
Last updated 16:54 10/07/2012

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A fiery relationship with a head chef has led to an Auckland bar and restaurant manager being paid out $16,000 for five days' work.

Afano Fa'amoe began working at Titirangi's Toby's Restaurant on October 12, 2010 and claims she was unjustifiably dismissed 12 days later.

She asked the Employment Relations Authority to find that she had a personal grievance case and award her three months' wages as well as compensation for "hurt and humiliation". 

The authority heard that Fa'amoe worked for a trial period of three days and then on October 18 met with owner Angela Nielson and her husband and a salary of $52,000 was agreed on.

Fa'amoe officially began working for the couple on October 19.

The authority said Fa'amoe had provided them with "graphic evidence" of her day-to-day experiences at the restaurant which included a "general lack of a positive or constructive relationship with Ms Neilson", who was often absent and didn't give her adequate direction. 

"Of particular concern to Ms Fa'amoe was the manner in which she was spoken to by the head chef," a recent authority decision said.

"Ms Fa'amoe gave examples of being sworn at by him and of being treated in a generally rude and dismissive manner."

The authority said it was clear from information provided by Nielson that the head chef could be a "difficult man".

Fa'amoe also raised concerns about the conduct of staff and customers at the bar, "in regard to their drinking habits", which she believed may compromise their liquor licence.

On October 24, Neilson sent Fa'amoe a text message ending her employment. She cited the situation with the head chef which was "getting worse".

"I am piggy in the middle. It is not going to wrk (sic)," she wrote.

On October 25, Fa'amoe asked Neilson if a solution could be reached and was told that the head chef and other staff were upset and that the last week had been a "battle zone".

Fa'amoe replied that she'd do whatever was required to "put it right". After mulling it over, Neilson sent Fa'amoe another text message saying she should take another job which she'd earlier mentioned was available to her. 

"Viv (the head chef) is not happy. The business needs him to produce the food. End of story. At the end of the day it is about the business."

The authority found Fa'amoe "desperately wanted to retain her employment".

"It may be that the professionalism of Ms Fa'amoe was more than the owners of (the) restaurant required and/or the culture that existed within the business was such that there was an undisguised resistance to any attempts by Fa'amoe to improve the operation of the business."

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The authority found Fa'amoe's dismissal was "procedurally and substantively unjustifiable". 

Fa'amoe told the authority she attempted to find a new job but didn't attend interviews as she had lost confidence. She described the job at Toby's Restaurant as her "dream job".

The authority called her dismissal by text "callous" and awarded her three months' pay - $13,000 - $3000 compensation and $71.56 to reimburse her for taking the employment action.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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