Media reports have recently shone a light on the conduct and alleged bullying by a Christchurch café owner and it has provided a timely reminder to employers that in the age of social media a negative company culture is not something that can be brushed under the carpet.

Hospitality institutions have often suffered from the pervasive reputation of being challenging to work in, from dealing with tricky patrons to operating in high-pressure situations, with those at the top often stereotyped as temperamental.  Back in the day though, a less than stellar employer reputation could only really be passed on via word of mouth.  Enter social media and the internet and behold! A recipe for disaster.  Word of owner-operator Sam Crofskey’s alleged bullying and harassment and management methodology spread like wildfire and has resulted in a boycott of C1 Espresso, multiple news articles and Mr Crofskey stepping down from his role on an extended ‘break’ to go away and think about his life choices.

With calls for C1 Espresso to be investigated by MBIE and the Labour Inspectorate, and with the potential liability of personal grievances being raised by current and former employees, it will be interesting to see how this matter unfolds.

There are varying issues with this matter that extend more broadly across all industries – the first is that there is a misguided view that you can behave badly in industries where employees are in what is considered a precarious employment position (usually young, paid at or close to minimum wage and employed as a casual employee) because they will not know or exercise their rights and can be viewed as ‘disposable’.  Except this is increasingly not the case – once you have a name as a ‘bad employer’, it is a lot harder to climb your way out of disrepute.

Employers have a responsibility under the Employment Relations Act (2002) to act in good faith toward their employees and also have a responsibility under the Health & Safety at Work Act (2015) to provide a safe environment for employees to do their jobs.  No employee should feel scared or intimidated to go to work.

These cases highlight the necessity to ensure that management has a clear understanding – not only of their obligations under the law, but of their moral responsibility to treat others how they would wish to be treated – and understand the ramifications of how this can affect a business if this isn’t taken into consideration.

It is also important to ensure that all employees (and management alike) have clear policies and processes to follow to be able to raise issues with their employment, in an environment where they will not be vilified for speaking out.  Not just because it is a matter of risk mitigation and brand protection, but because it is the right thing to do.

As specialists in managing workplace issues and conflict, we can help should you need guidance in any of these matters.  Contact us for an obligation free discussion.