Queensland cafe worker unfairly dismissed for not using 'smiley emojis' in text message

The Fair Work Commission found the cafe supervisor was "merely trying to express a view" when she sent a text message to her general manager about rostering, and that her dismissal was unreasonable.

A composite image showing the Fair Work Commission sign and a person on their mobile phone.

A Queensland cafe worker was unfairly dismissed over text messages in which she did not use smiley face emojis, the Fair Work Commission found. Source: AAP, Getty

A Queensland cafe worker was unfairly dismissed after not using smiley face emojis in a text message exchange to senior staff about rostering, the Fair Work Commission has found.

Sens Catering Group, which runs Sens Coffee, fired its cafe supervisor over messages in which she raised concerns with her general manager that staff were being pulled from the cafe to the group's new, better-performing cafe venture on weekends.

In the messages, the supervisor expressed that the business needed to hire another staff member for their other venue to manage understaffing.

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Fair Work Commissioner Chris Simpson concluded the supervisor was "merely trying to express a view as to what would be in the best interests of the business in regard to staffing across the two venues".

"The evidence does not support a conclusion that the Applicant refused to follow a lawful and reasonable direction and there is nothing else to support a conclusion that her actions constituted a valid reason for dismissal," he wrote on Monday.
The commission heard evidence from a co-worker, who was with the general manager at the time the message was received, that she was told to "fire her right now!!"

"Hire another supervisor I don't care about the cost, do it now!," she said.

When asked why she was so upset by the message, the general manager repeatedly said the supervisor "didn't add any smiley faces! There are no emotions!"

According to the supervisor, the general manager took what she had said as being "unfriendly".

The commission heard that on the night of the text messages, the general manager allegedly tried to convince another staff member to take the supervisor's job.

She was dismissed the next day. When asked for a reason why, the supervisor said she was allegedly told the business is getting rid of any staff that didn't agree with the owners.

One week after being dismissed, the supervisor said the general manager spoke with her and offered two weeks paid leave and a position running a new store - which was not agreed to.

According to the supervisor, the general manager said that "obviously they cannot work together because they do not have the same values".

The commissioner heard that the supervisor had been sat down on previous occasions by the general manager and pushed her to resign.
In a letter to the commission, the cafe owner - whose ex-wife is the general manager - said he believed the dismissal was not harsh as he understood the business offered two weeks paid leave and expected the supervisor to return to work thereafter.

He did not attend the directions hearing nor provide any further material.

The commissioner found that the supervisor was dismissed and that he is "inclined" of the view that an offer of additional payment, a period of 'paid leave' and the potential offer of other future employment were "attempts to resolve the dispute about the earlier dismissal".

The commissioner also considered that the supervisor was undergoing a fertility program at the time, which the general manager was aware of, and that the dismissal had a "significant financial impact" and affected her ability to continue with the program.

He was "inclined" to think the supervisor would have likely continued her employment for at least another three months had she not been dismissed, equalling about $14,300 in earnings.

The commissioner ordered the business to pay her compensation of $5,350, after deducting earnings made from casual shifts and a subsequent short-term job following her dismissal.

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4 min read
Published 13 July 2022 at 4:44pm
By Emma Brancatisano
Source: SBS News