Originally published under Quest Community News
Michael Pulvirenti never told anyone about the special needs of some of his employees. But an especially harsh comment from a customer upset him so much, he thought it was time to say something.
As the owner of Burger PL8 at Jindalee, Mr Pulvirenti estimates around 60 per cent of his staff have had conditions such as Tourette’s, Asperger’s, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder and extreme anxiety.
Mr Pulvirenti said a male customer was briefly delayed after a staff member had trouble with his order.
“I could see he was getting a bit agitated and I said ‘won’t be a minute mate’,” Mr Pulvirenti said.
“I apologised for the extra couple of minutes and he said ‘you should look at employing normal people’.”
Mr Pulvirenti said he was stunned by the remark.
“I thought ‘are you serious?!’ I don’t find him to be normal to say something like that. For two weeks, it just stayed with me, and I thought ‘I’ve got to let this out’,” he said.
Mr Pulvirenti made a Facebook post about the incident, but not before asking his staff if it was okay to do so.
“We’re getting that busy that it has started to become — I won’t say a problem, but it is a greater challenge for myself and a couple of the other staff who don’t have a condition,” he said.
“I can handle the pressure, but the kids … I spoke to all of them and told them what happened, and said I thought it was time to let people know the sort of business we’ve got, but that if it bothered anybody, I wouldn’t. But they said they’d actually like me to do it,” he said.
“I don’t have a condition but (that comment) really affected me. It offended me. My staff were okay with it because I think they live a life where they get a little comment here and there. But on a good day, these guys run rings around everyone else.”
In the emotional post, Mr Pulvirenti said his crew had more guts, determination and work ethic than most.
“We should praise them. I’m proud to have built my business with this group of amazing people who have become part of the Burger PL8 team and family,” he wrote.
In the restaurant’s first store at Logan, Mr Pulvirenti said he hired someone who he soon realised had Tourette’s.
“After the first day, I knew there was something there. He approached me and told me he had Tourette’s and I said that’s no problems,” he said.
“We worked through that, and the more he relaxed, he told me he found it really hard not to swear, but we embraced it. Every now and then we’d be working together and he’d say ‘b*tchface!’ and I’d say ‘you’re a b*tchface’ and we’d chuckle about it.”
Mr Pulvirenti said he also employed someone with bipolar disorder who hadn’t been able to get a job, after initially only intending to train him to help him get work elsewhere.
“We didn’t really need anybody but I was happy if he came in and I could put him through our induction and write a letter about the training he’d done,” he said.
“He ended up being that good that on his second last day my wife said ‘why aren’t you employing him?’ I said because I didn’t really need him, but she said ‘honey, he’s a really good worker’, so we employed him as well. Then he came up to me and said ‘thank you for the best Christmas present’. I said ‘what present?’ and he said ‘the job’.
“I just want to give these kids a break, and the more and more I do it, the more I hear how hard it is for them to get a job. It’s just horrible.”
After the customer’s savage remark, Mr Pulvirenti said he thought it was time to let people know about the inclusive nature of his business.
“I’ve been doing this for two years and not told anyone. But the business is getting that busy, that I thought maybe it was time to let the public know maybe why there might be little hiccups. And I mean really insignificant hiccups. Things might take a little bit longer. I’m hoping people might be a little more sympathetic or patient towards our business and our brand,” he said.
Following his Facebook post, Mr Pulvirenti said he had been swamped with support from customers.
“A lot of people came to the shop and said ‘we want to support you and we don’t care how long it takes’,” he said.
He said a staff member had also resigned because he felt his condition was hurting the operation.
“He said he didn’t want to affect the business and I said ‘that’s great mate, but I’m not accepting your resignation — take some time off, a month or two,’ and I’ve changed his role,” Mr Pulvirenti said.
Mr Pulvirenti said he hoped customers would understand some of the adversities his staff face.
“I’m pretty passionate about it. I’d employ 50 of them if I could.”