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Cook Fired for Plating Up Instant Mash

It’s been a week of creative payrolls, sadness, frypans and fires in Australia’s culinary landscape. Channel 10 are still gobsmacked that its MasterChef judges turned down a very generous deal of $9 per hour cash-in-hand package and one cook was terminated after 10 years’ service for plating up instant mash instead of real potatoes - a move that would have Margaret Fulton turning in her grave.

The Employer Judged the Meal an Epic Fail Ms Paganoni was fired for serving a sub-standard meal to aged care residents that departed from the menu plan without seeking management approval. She prepared meatloaf with a splash of instant mash potato instead of freshly minted potatoes, sweet potato instead of pumpkin and did not serve green beans in accordance with the menu. Ms P stated that the pilot light on the kitchen stove had gone out, and that by the time she noticed this, there was not enough time to prepare the fresh potatoes in time for the dinner service. She also argued that she used a product that was stocked in the kitchen, there were often changes to the menu plan and that management approval was not always sought. Evidence from other witnesses also supported that changes to the menu did occur and not always with management permission. Her employer said codswallop! Ms P had received three warnings in the last 12 months, the latest one being for serving fish fingers instead of fish. The last warning made it clear that she was contractually obligated to follow the menu and that termination could result if she breached again. The Commission Judged the Employer The Fair Work Commission accepted that menu deviations had occurred by others and not always with management consultation however, this did not mean that Ms P and other staff were released from their contractual obligations to follow the menu plan. Whilst it was held that Ms P had a good reason to depart from the menu to ensure food was served on time, the Commission held that since Ms P had only recently received a final warning about this very same issue and did not have regard to the instructions she had been given, that this constituted a valid reason for termination. The Commission found that procedurally, the employer did the right thing. But was it fair? Time’s Running Out

The Commission said that in this case there were special circumstances. Firstly, Ms P tried to do the right thing by the residents and make the meal according to the menu, but when she realised the dilemma of her potatoes not boiling, made a quick decision to serve something else instead so they wouldn’t have to wait. Secondly, it was established there had been departures from the menu previously, not always with management approval and therefore the inconsistent approach adopted was considered a failure by the employer. Thirdly, one of the reasons for termination was that the instant mash had a poor consistency and looked unappetising. There was evidence led that this product which was stocked in the kitchen was particularly hard to use compared to previous products and it was what was provided by the employer. Therefore, it was not Ms P’s fault that the mash looked like pig slop. Ultimately it was found that Ms P’s conduct in not complying with her warning did constitute misconduct however, in the circumstances her termination was harsh and therefore unfair. The misconduct was taken into account when reducing her compensation by 30%, leaving her with a compensation sum of $9,901.54. Cases like this can be tricky and there's more than one lesson that can be learnt here. For employers, does it change anything in relation to adopting proper processes when considering termination? No. Rather it reminds them of the critical role they play in enforcing consistent standards for all employees, taking into account special circumstances that led to an event and ensuring their pantries are properly stocked. H&R Workplace Strategies specialise in workplace investigations in complex workplace matters where termination is being considered. Please contact Helen on 0433 656 399 or Richard on 0408 611 850 if you require further information. Michelle Paganoni v MECWA t/a Mecwacare

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