Sacked employee says he ate cake 'as a joke'
A supermarket employee who lost his job over a piece of sponge cake says it was used as an excuse to get rid of him.
Wanja Mutze, 32, unwrapped and took a bite of a piece of cake from a "pig bin" for dumped food during a morning tea break in 2012.
An investigation into the incident led to the New World Lincoln employee's suspension and eventual resignation.
The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found in a decision released this month that Mutze suffered "unjustified disadvantage in his employment by being suspended".
However, it fell short of "unjustifiable constructive dismissal", as Mutze claimed.
The ERA said Mutze stepped down as New World Lincoln's produce manager to assistant manager in 2012 after a fortnight of sick leave due to stress.
Mutze said he had a delayed onset of post-traumatic stress disorder from the Canterbury earthquakes and relations with his boss went "downhill" from there.
The ERA said Mutze knew taking the cake "was not the right thing to do", but that it was meant to be a joke.
His employer was offended by Mutze's "trivialising" of the matter and said selling food was their "livelihood" and "if people were allowed to eat rubbish then business would tank".
The ERA awarded Mutze $500 compensation for the stress caused by his two-day suspension.
Mutze told The Press the cake-eating incident was used as "an excuse to get rid of me".
The response was "way over the top", he said.
"It was a practical joke. Everyone had a laugh. That's all it came down to."
A Foodstuffs NZ spokeswoman said Mutze was suspended due to the "health and safety breach of consuming food product that had been properly disposed of'."
The bin contents, considered unfit for human consumption, were destined for a pig farm or reprocessing by a third party for animal stock feed.
Mutze said health and safety concerns referred to in the ERA's decision were "ridiculous" because the cake had the same expiry date as the day he ate it and was in its original sealed packaging.
He is now working as an assistant manager at a fruit and vegetable store and said he had learned from his experience.
"If an employer wants to get rid of someone, they will find a way," Mutze said.