Silver Fern Farms meatworker fired for not washing her hands

Marie McNabb picked up dropped meat, then carried on handling meat for packaging.
DIANE BISHOP/FAIRFAX NZ

Marie McNabb picked up dropped meat, then carried on handling meat for packaging.

Marie McNabb's decision not to wash her hands after picking meat up off the floor got her sacked.

A manager was watching when the Silver Fern Farms meatworker took a load to the dropped meat table, then went straight back to handling meat for packaging.

Days later, in June 2016, McNabb lost her job at the Te Aroha export plant, where strict hygiene procedures must be followed.

McNabb lost her job at the Silver Fern Farms Te Aroha plant after the incident.
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McNabb lost her job at the Silver Fern Farms Te Aroha plant after the incident.

That was fair, a recent Employment Relations Authority decision says.

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"Ms McNabb was justifiably dismissed and I can be of no further assistance to her," authority member Vicki Campbell wrote.

McNabb said she skipped hand-washing because she was under pressure and she didn't think it was serious misconduct.

Regional assistant manager Laurie Davies disagreed and said that sort of behaviour could jeopardise the plant's export licence. 

It was Friday, June 24, 2016, when McNabb was caught failing to follow procedure.

"[She] was observed by Mr Ben Hook, operations improvement manager, retrieving cut meat from the floor, taking it to the dropped meat table and returning to her work station, where she proceeded to handle other meat in preparation for packaging," the decision said.

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A written procedure states employees have to wash their hands after touching dropped meat.

McNabb was stood down and warned the breach could be grounds for dismissal.

The following Monday was the last day before the Te Aroha plant closed for the season, and also the day of McNabb's disciplinary meeting.

McNabb admitted she hadn't followed process, but repeated that she had been under pressure.

When asked, she said she didn't know where the button to stop the chain was.

The meeting was put on pause while Davies talked to McNabb's colleague and a manager.

He came back satisfied she knew about the button and that the chain hadn't been busy.

But plant union secretary Jason Simpson argued McNabb's employment shouldn't be at risk due to her actions.

Some employees in similar situations hadn't been fired, he said.

"Mr Davies was not persuaded and reiterated his view that the issue fell under serious misconduct, as the plant's export licence could have been put in jeopardy and that would have affected everyone," the decision said.

It being the final day of work, McNabb and Simpson pushed Davies to settle the matter on the day. He decided to fire her.

The process was fair and reasonable in the Employment Relations Authority's view.

McNabb knew what the issue was, she had a chance to explain, and Silver Fern Farms sufficiently investigated the allegations, the decision said.

 - Stuff

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