Cook of 10 years sacked for serving wrong side dish

By Portner Press on July 19th, 2019
  1. Performance Management
  2. Misconduct

Serving the wrong side dish is certainly no side issue according to aged care provider Mecwacare.

The company sacked one of its cooks because on one occasion she substituted boiled potatoes with instant mash – to get the food out on time.

She had worked at the Park Hill residential care home for nearly 10 years before she was dismissed for departing from the menu plan without consulting management first.

The cook was instructed to serve boiled potatoes with meatloaf. While the potatoes were cooking, the pilot light on the stove went out.

By time she noticed, it was too late to prepare the potatoes for the start of the dinner service, so she quickly made up a batch of instant mashed potato as a replacement.

She didn’t want to delay the service to the 69 residents because of the flow-on effect it would have on the personal care staff.

One resident complained about the mash and when a care assistant collected a plate with an uneaten portion of it, she showed it to the facility manager who took a photograph.

The company considered that the mash was runny and unacceptable and dismissed the cook a few weeks later.

In the Fair Work Commission (FWC) unfair dismissal hearing, Mecwacare contended that it had a valid reason to dismiss the cook as she had failed to follow the menu plan, which was in breach of her employment contract.

The employer also said it had issued the cook with a written final warning about eight months earlier when she served fish fingers instead of fresh fish. The cook contested the validity of this warning, saying that she exercised her judgment to serve fish fingers because the fish didn’t smell good.

The cook also submitted that departures from the menu plan without management permission were not uncommon and detailed a number of occasions when her supervisor, another cook, had deviated from the menu without consulting the facility manager.

The supervisor denied this, however another kitchen assistant said that deviations from the menu plan were a regular occurrence and she herself had departed from the menu plan without always consulting the facility manager first.

In determining whether the cook’s dismissal was unfair, FWC Deputy President Alan Colman took into consideration three things.

Firstly, he said that the cook “was trying to do the right thing by the residents” and responded quickly to a dilemma to ensure the residents received their meals on time.

Secondly, he found that evidence showed there were unauthorised departures from the menu plans and that the management had not been consistent in enforcing the contractual obligations of all its kitchen workers.

Thirdly, he found that the decision to dismiss the cook was based not only on her departure from the menu plan, but also the manner in which she had departed from it, in that she had produced a batch of instant mash that had poor consistency and looked unappetising.

“It is not clear that the company would have dismissed [the cook] if the mash had turned out better. However, in my view the poor appearance and consistency of the mash was not [the cook’s] fault,” he said.

“The company stocked the instant mash product in its kitchen. Although the company said that it should not be used as a standalone vegetable, there was no rule to this effect.

“Moreover, several witnesses had concerns about the product, including [the supervisor], who said that she had told [the facility manager] that the product had problems and that she wanted to use a different, previously stocked product. [The supervisor] also said that the company has since switched back to using the former product.”

Deputy President Colman found that the dismissal was harsh and therefore unfair, but believed reinstatement would be inappropriate.

In calculating the compensation amount, he made a reduction of 30% for the “seriousness of not complying with a contractual obligation that had been the subject of a prior warning”.

Mecwacare was ordered to pay the cook $9,901.54.

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