Q: I run a café restaurant with my business partner. We have worked together in the business for twelve years and have built up a good, regular clientele and an excellent reputation. Now my wife has taken to coming in and “helping out” on odd days. She doesn’t have a clue about managing the staff but she makes it very clear to them that because she is a director of the business she is ‘in charge’ when my partner and I are busy in the kitchen. Last week she crept up behind one of our established young waitresses and shouted in her ear, accusing her of looking at her ‘funny’. The waitress was very upset and left. Can I be sued and what can I do?
A: This is a potentially serious situation. To creep up and shout what is tantamount to a threat to the employee is potentially a criminal assault and is certainly an abuse of your wife’s position as employer.
From an employment law perspective, to act in such an abusive way is a breach of the implied covenant of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee. Depending on the nature of the incident, this could be sufficient for a constructive dismissal claim to be entered against your partnership. At the very least, your employee is entitled to be paid for a notice period as you could also have been deemed to have terminated her contract by acting in such a way.
Apart from keeping your wife out of the business, you probably do need to arrange a meeting with the employee and agree terms of settlement so the matter does not go any further. You should however take urgent legal advice before doing this.