‘Spaced out’ chef unjustifiably dismissed

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The head chef of Suntrap Lobster Inn, Kaikoura, who was accused of a lack of sobriety at work, has successfully challenged his employers for wrongful dismissal at the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

It was alleged by the plaintiff’s colleagues that he was either drunk or on drugs during his shift. “Aaron Pablecheque [another chef and the employers’ son] told his parents that Mr Tierney had arrived hypo but then acted like he hadn’t been to sleep for 3 days – eyes half shut, spaced out … picked on other staff – mean,” ERA member Christine Hickey noted in her determination.

The plaintiff told the ERA that he missed his next shift because he slept through his alarm.

The following week, the plaintiff was called into a meeting with his employers, Julie and Neil Pablecheque. “He was advised to bring a support person and told that the matters are extremely serious and termination of your employment with us is being considered,” Hickey wrote.

During the meeting the plaintiff told the Pablecheques that he did not drink for the eight hours prior to a shift and that he did not take drugs. He offered to take a drug test and provide a urine sample, and the respondent agreed to pay for the test. However, after meeting with other staff, and before the test results arrived, the chef was summarily dismissed.

In the event, the drug tests came back negative, but the employer claimed that they were ‘irrelevant’ because the chef had been sacked as a result of his behaviour on the night in question. However, by agreeing that he would undergo the drug tests, the Pablecheques contributed to the plaintiff’s view that he was being investigated for, and was eventually dismissed for, drug use, according to Hickey.

“Despite Mr and Mrs Pablecheque’s insistence at the investigation meeting that intoxication, with its implication of drunkenness, was relied on it is clear that at the time of deciding to dismiss, Mr and Mrs Pablechque considered [the plaintiff] to have been affected by drug use rather than drunk or hungover,” Hickey wrote.

The ERA ruled that the plaintiff had been unjustifiably dismissed because of a lack of procedural fairness. He was awarded $6,000 compensation and lost wages amounting to $1,400.

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