Fired over a $1 fry
In the end, it turned out the Burger King case against Usha came down to a $1 order of fries. Burger King said they fired her for stealing them. Usha said her shift boss told her she could have them.
The whole incident started with a simple and reasonable request one day in December 2013: when Usha got to the end of her shift she asked her supervisor if she could take home a “fish fry” without paying. She told him she had come to work without her wallet. He said yes, and Usha packed up a fish sandwich, an order of fries, and a pop to take home.
The trouble was, according to her supervisor, that he had not given her permission to take the fries. The drink was okay because employees at Burger King are allowed free drinks.
The supervisor also told the court he waited for a few days to see if Usha would pay for the the fries which came to a total cost of $1 once staff discounts were accounted for. When Usha did not pay the dollar, the manager notified the big boss. He immediately pulled her into a meeting, accused her of stealing, and fired her on the spot.
Usha began to cry. She offered to pay for the food in hopes of keeping her job. She was told to leave.
Usha had worked there for 24 years. She was a model worker. She had never missed work and never been disciplined for anything. It didn't matter.
She was the sole support for her physically handicapped husband and a mentally disabled adult daughter. The family survived on what she earned: $21,000.00 a year. None of it mattered that day at Burger King. But it sure did when Usha finally got her day in court.
Court comes down hard on Burger King
Here’s what the judge said when she found Burger King had no cause whatever to fire Usha Ram:
“Mr. Mohammed [the manager] did not consider the particular circumstances or make any assessment of the actual seriousness of Ms. Ram’s conduct before deciding to terminate her employment. He claimed that he did not do so because it is necessary to ensure that employees know that taking food without authorization will not be tolerated.”
The judge concluded Usha was not given an appropriate chance to respond to the allegations and clarify that it was the result of a miscommunication.
She also ruled that Burger King management: “behaved in an unreasonable, unfair and unduly insensitive manner” on the day Usha was confronted with the allegations.
The judge ordered the franchisee to pay Usha at total of $46,000: general damages of $21,000, to cover a year’s lost salary; and $25,000 in aggravated damages for Usha’s emotional turmoil following the dismissal.
The ones who bring home the bacon
This is a small, but important win against the fast food bullies who treat so many workers with disrespect and disdain.
Unfortunately none of it hurts their profits any. Last year revenues were up across the board at Burger King and Tim Horton’s restaurants. That helped parent company Restaurant Brands International Inc. grow their market share and increase profitability, including $118.4 million in the last quarter of the year. They claim that their profit increases are due to their new Bacon King product, but we know who brings home the bacon at Burger King. It’s people like Usha Ram.
What you can do
There is a long list of horror stories about the treatment of workers at fast food outlets across Canada. They include being harassed and persecuted at work, having their shifts trimmed and their breaks cut back. Plus, they have to work at minimum wage with minimal benefits, even if that’s their full-time job. The hours are long, the work is tedious and sometimes dangerous when it comes to hot grills and vats of boiling fat. And sometimes they get disciplined and fired for no good reason.
Write to Burger King and tell them that you would like to see Usha Ram get her job back.
Join the fight for fairness for fast food workers across North America.
This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.
Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.