A restaurant employee brought a claim to the Employment Relations Authority that she was being bullied and harassed for being required to wear a name badge that did not bear her own name.

The restaurant required employees to always wear a name badge, and it was considered a violation of the franchise’s rules if employees were found to not wear name badges during random audits by the franchisor.

As name badges were ordered for employees in batches, it was common practice within the franchise for employees to wear a name badge of an absent or former employee, or one that says, “Trainee”.

Wearing an incorrectly named badge did not affect the restaurant’s customer experience surveys of staff members as the employee’s actual name would be displayed on the receipt. The surveys were used to recognise outstanding employees within the region.

The employee started work and did not have her own name badge. She was asked to wear another employee’s name badge and was told her own name badge had been ordered. The employee informed her manager that she did not like wearing another employee's name badge.

On a subsequent shift, the manager saw that the employee was not wearing a name badge and fetched one for her. The employee did not voice her concerns because she claimed she was afraid of the manager.

On a third occasion the manager also asked her to wear another employee’s name badge. The employee wrote her own name on paper and stuck it over the badge. The manager did not object to this but informed her to remove the paper if the audit team arrived.

On the final occasion the employee was also required to wear another employee’s name badge. This time the name was of a different ethnicity than the employee, and when queried about this by a customer the employee felt embarrassed and upset. She did not inform her manager about how this made her feel.

The employee’s parents angrily confronted the manager about the issue and the employee informed the manager she would not be working her next cover shift (a shift outside of her contracted hours to cover staff shortages). In response, the manager removed her from two subsequent cover shifts.

The ERA investigated whether the manager’s actions of requiring the employee to wear a name badge bearing another name, and removing the employee from further cover shifts, amounted to bullying and harassment.

The ERA found that there was no bullying or harassment due to the following reasons:

  • It was not unjustifiable for the restaurant to require employees to wear name badges as this was part of their uniform policy and monitored by the audit team;
  • There was no adverse effect of the name badge requirement on the terms and conditions of employment;
  • Wearing a different name badge did not affect her ability to be recognised for providing excellent customer service;
  • The employee agreed that wearing a paper name cover temporarily helped her concerns;
  • The employee was not singled out by the requirement as all employees were expected to comply with the uniform policy and it was common practice to wear different name badges; and
  • The manager was not informed as to how seriously the employee felt about wearing a different name badge.

In response to the employee being removed from her scheduled cover shifts, the ERA stated that because these hours were not guaranteed under her contract and the employee was not entitled to cover shifts, there was no adverse effect on the terms and conditions of her employment.

As the employee gave short notice that she didn’t want to work one cover shift, it was considered reasonable by the ERA for the manager to lack confidence that she could work for the other cover shifts.

This case highlights the importance of employers instituting policies that are applicable to all employees without discrimination to avoid being penalised for bullying and harassment. It pays to take legal advice from a legal professional to review such policies to reduce the risk of being caught out.

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