Summer Jade Hair Salon: Gen Z hairdresser sacked for ‘gossiping’ wins unfair dismissal case

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A “gossiping” gen Z hairdresser who was constantly using her phone at work and “talking about herself” to clients has won a payout after a tribunal found she was unfairly sacked last year.

Jorja McGennan, a young apprentice who had “limited work experience” when she took the job in April 2021, was not offered “procedural” fairness when she was let go from Summer Jade Hair Salon in Queensland’s Hervey Bay, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) found on Wednesday.

Salon owner Angela Park had previously provided Ms McGennan with multiple verbal warnings about “the quality of her work, her work performance, client complaints, mobile phone usage and interaction with clients”, the tribunal noted.

Things came to a head last July after Ms McGennan allegedly cost the salon one of its highest-paying long-term clients “because you think you are right with no ramifications”, Ms Park wrote in an official warning letter shortly before the sacking.

The apprentice had also received “five verbal warnings” about using her phone during work hours. “Quality of work not up to standard and not taking ownership of mistakes, always blaming others,” the letter continued.

“Clients not wanting to return to the salon because of your attitude and quality of work and care. Taking sick days without doctor certificates. Talking about yourself to clients, when the clients are there to relax and enjoy their experience in the salon (two verbal warnings prior).”

Ms McGennan told the commission that in May last year while she was off sick, Ms Park had “spoken negatively about her” to one of the salon’s long-term clients.

The salon owner told the commission that “she did express disappointment” with Ms McGennan’s conduct “because her actions put pressure on the team and made clients feel uncomfortable, but it was not negative”.

The client mentioned this to Ms McGennan at another appointment the next month, and the young worker confronted her boss about the conversation.

Ms Park said she thought there had been a “misunderstanding” and asked Ms McGennan to “explain this to the client and offer an apology for this issue to be resolved”, the tribunal said.

But the workplace tension caused the client to leave, stating she “felt uncomfortable returning to the salon while [Ms McGennan] was at the salon after the miscommunication”.

After issuing the warning letter, Ms Park told the apprentice she would be given one week to improve her performance – but after some back-and-forth, that day sent her a fed-up text informing her she was being sacked.

“Clearly this is going nowhere,” she wrote.

“I believe the best thing is for me to give you two weeks’ notice. I’ve come to this conclusion because the problems aren’t being rectified. It’s going round and round with no outcome. Your final date will be Saturday July 15. Sorry it has come to this.”

The pair argued over whether Ms McGennan had resigned or was being sacked.

Ms McGennan later insisted “I have not resigned or quit, therefore I can stay for the rest of my apprenticeship or you can terminate me”. “I have no intention to cease my employment this close to my apprenticeship completion date,” she texted.

Ms Park wrote, “OK Jorja, I have given you two weeks notice to terminate your employment.”

Ms McGennan lodged her unfair dismissal application that day.

The matter was heard in October by FWC deputy president Nicholas Lake, who on Wednesday ruled in favour of Ms McGennan.

During the hearing, Ms Park referenced a TikTok clip posted by Ms McGennan on July 18 “which referenced quitting a toxic job, as evidence [she] resigned”.

“Although [Ms McGennan] acknowledged this was an unwise decision, it did not change the fact that the employment relationship was ended by [Ms Park] via text on July 4, 2023,” Mr Lake said.

He added that even though Ms McGennan had told her boss she intended to resign at the end of her apprenticeship in October, this was a “heat of the moment” comment and she had in fact been fired.

The commissioner said while Ms Park was justified in being “frustrated” at losing a long-term client, “the incident could have been better managed”.

“The nature of the industry requires communication skills with clients who may raise an array of topics,” he said.

“A topic raised in this instance was a discussion about a workplace situation. It is likely that Ms Park’s comment to the long-term client on June 13, 2023 may have been a passing comment which was misinterpreted by the client. The comments became a misunderstanding through gossip shared between the [Ms McGennan] and the long-term client. [Ms McGennan] may not have had the context when hearing about the comments from the long-term client which led to tension between [Ms McGennan] and [Ms Park].”

The tribunal accepted that there was a “valid reason” for Ms McGennan’s dismissal given her overall conduct but said the ultimate reason provided – “happy to lose one of Summer Jade Hair Salon’s top 10 highest paying clients for 10 years, because you think you are right with no ramifications” — appeared to be “somewhat spiteful and capricious”.

Mr Park said the apprentice had not been provided proper notice and an opportunity to respond after the formal warning letter before she was sacked.

“I note that [Ms McGennan] could have dealt with the situation more professionally,” he said.

“[She] appears to be new to the workforce and there are going to be situations where it may be disagreeable to her. [Ms McGennan] could have at least discussed the misunderstanding and ask the long-term client to come back to the hair salon.”

But the commission found that “the number of procedural deficiencies cannot be overlooked and support the finding that [Ms McGennan’s] dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable”.

“What should have been done was to conduct a review of [Ms McGennan’s] performance on July 11, 2023 and give [her] a cooling-off period in addressing the long-term client, instead of deciding to dismiss her on the day she received the written notice,” Mr Park said.

“As a result, I am satisfied that [Ms McGennan] was unfairly dismissed under s.394 of the Act and is entitled to a remedy under this provision.”

A hearing will be conducted at a later date to determine an “appropriate remedy”.

Ms Park declined to comment when reached by phone on Thursday.

Ms McGennan has been contacted for comment.

frank.chung@news.com.au