13 Aug 2015

Teen waitress fired for lacking a smile

4:46 pm on 13 August 2015

A young woman was found to be unjustifiably dismissed for failing to smile enough during her work at a pizza restaurant and has been awarded more than $11,000 in compensation by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

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Jacinta Highley Photo: Facebook

Telemarketer Jacinta Highley worked for the Christchurch pizza restaurant Cocopelli from the end of October until the end of January.

Ms Highley said she had been happy with the way she was serving customers and had been receiving compliments from employees of the restaurant.

However, Christchurch pizza restaurant and bar Cocopelli manager Jeanette Francis said she had received multiple complaints about Ms Highley, who had been described as "unhappy, bland, lacking personality, looking miserable and seeming to hate her job".

Ms Francis said she did not tell Ms Highley about these comments, as she believed they would be hurtful and instead told her it was her being unpleasant that was not acceptable.

She told Ms Highley that her employment was in jeopardy if she did not improve her customer service.

Ms Francis claimed that Ms Highley had agreed to a codeword, "Miley", to encourage her to smile more.

When this failed to incite Ms Highley to improve her performance, it was suggested they change the codeword to her partner's name as she "seemed to smile when she spoke about him".

Ms Highley said she was relieved when her trial period ended but was then dismissed on 28 January, the day after the end of her three-month-trial.

However, as she was fired the day after her trial ended, it was decided Ms Highley had been unfairly dismissed.

ERA member David Appleton said Ms Highley should have been advised of her right to fair representation, and given the chance to correct any unsatisfactory behaviour as she was no longer under the trial period.

He said Ms Highley had been "ambushed" by her dismissal, although conceded Ms Francis had made a miscalculation in regard to when the date of the trial period ended.

However, this miscalculation was not Ms Highley's fault, and she should not be held accountable for it, Mr Appleton said.

He called Ms Highley a "perfectly presentable, articulate, intelligent, polite and pleasant person" but accepted she did not have the skillset required for the job.

As he acknowledged she would likely still have been dismissed under proper employment procedures, she was awarded four weeks of lost wages and holiday pay.

She was also awarded $11,250 in compensation.

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