A Hochelaga vegan restaurant is under fire for creating “a climate of fear and intimidation” in the workplace, and for the decision to fire a dishwasher by text message immediately before Christmas.
An open letter from the worker, who goes by Sarah, accuses one manager in particular of abusive and threatening conduct towards staff. The French-language letter was published on union website International Workers of the World, saying that after Antidote hired her in September, she was “so happy at the idea of no longer living in her car with her dog, and being able to pay rent.”
She alleges that manager Arielle La Jardinière “created a climate of intimidation in the restaurant where many employees were threatened with dismissal for reasons that weren’t valid or sometimes weren’t true.” La Jardinière oversees the restaurant when owner Élise Bellerose isn’t present.
She goes on to describe the atmosphere at the restaurant as “like walking on eggshells”, accusing the manager of calling multiple staff members “bitches.” One dishwasher reportedly quit because he said “he refused to be spoken to as if he was a nothing.” When such issues were taken to the owner, she claims Bellerose did not want to engage with them.
Sarah describes another situation where she went out front in the restaurant to see if there were dirty dishes, as her job required, but was allegedly berated and told to “get back in her little corner”. She says she tried to bring up such treatment with Bellerose, but was ignored. Instead, Bellerose reportedly put a note up for employees stating that La Jardinière was absolutely in charge in her absence, and that employees would have to “deal with it”.
She didn’t have to “deal” for much longer: Sarah says Bellerose fired her by text message just three hours before a shift in mid-December, just short of three months after starting (in Quebec, restaurant staff can be fired without cause in the first three months of employment). She writes that this left her worried that she will have to return to being homeless.
The story has set off a storm of criticism against the restaurant on Facebook, particularly for the decision to allegedly fire someone by text message, although some critical comments (such as those pictured below) appear to have been deleted.
On Thursday, Antidote’s owner published a response on Facebook, copying and pasting the same response in reply to many of those criticizing the restaurant. In it, Bellerose notes that “it’s not her style to air her dirty laundry publicly”, before going on to compliment Sarah, noting that she showed potential and leadership in organizing a Christmas market at Antidote. The owner also says she received death threats over the fuss.
Bellerose confirms that Sarah was fired by text, “a mistake”, which she chalks up to being a “young entrepreneur”. In a message to Eater, she added that Sarah was only contactable by text message, not phone call. The Facebook statement claims that Sarah had warnings prior to her dismissal (it’s unclear whether those warnings are the threats of dismissal that Sarah references in her open letter). The accusations against La Jardinière are not addressed, with Bellerose noting that the new manager “shone a light on situations that had previously gone unnoticed”.
The note appears to support La Jardinière with one remark: “when organizational changes [like La Jardinière’s hiring] happen, the transition can be seen as a crack-down.” She goes on to say that the fact that some employees are still happy to work at Antidote proves that she is “a good boss”.
The statement from Bellerose seems to have been badly received: the replies to it are more negative than supportive, with numerous people pledging to boycott the vegan restaurant.