Woman awarded $5000 after employment stoush on Facebook

‘‘Ask any expert, they will tell you that Facebook is the most dangerous player in the digital...
PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman who was fired after a public disagreement with her boss on Facebook has been awarded $5000 in compensation for hurt and humiliation as well as $3104 in lost and unpaid wages.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found the woman, who cannot be named, was unjustifiably dismissed from her job at an ice cream store.

The disagreement erupted after the woman was told the company had successfully applied for the wage subsidy scheme and all employees would be paid 80 per cent of the hours they worked that month.

She became concerned that it would be a lower amount than the subsidy payments as her hours had been lower than usual due to a combination of her decision to self-isolate earlier in the month and a recent broken ankle.

She emailed the company's director, Darren Angus, the same day, it began: "Completely wrong sorry your accountant's are full of BS [sic]."

Angus replied the following day, in a long email that included, "we are not the social services. Once the lockdown is over, hours will become available again, people will be paid based on what hours they have worked, as always. Until then, the process outlined below will apply. I am sorry.

"There is no entitlement to but we are paying anyway..." he said.

The exchange ended when the woman wrote back apologising for bothering Angus and telling him to "just leave it".

Angus told the ERA this statement indicated to him that the woman had agreed to be paid 80 per cent of her hours.

"It is clear that the applicant did not agree to be paid only 80 per cent of her hours worked during the month of March 2020, and repeatedly asked to be paid the wage subsidy amount that Mr Angus had advised had been received on her behalf," ERA member Claire English said in the decision.

A short time later, the woman made a comment on a local community Facebook page.

The post was removed by the page administrators, and neither party was able to provide copies to the authority.

"It appears that the applicant complained that she worked for a business that had not paid its workers but had received the wage subsidy," English said.

Angus replied, attempting to clarify his opinion that his employees had been paid.

He then posted, "nice way to resign".

The woman then replied, "yeah, I resign".

The woman then received her final pay in the next fortnightly pay run. She texted Angus asking for an explanation as she had not resigned.

Angus replied by email explaining that he considered she had resigned in her Facebook post. The woman then raised a personal grievance.

The ERA found that the woman did not resign.

"It was Mr Angus who suggested that she had done so, by using the word "resignation", in the context of an unresolved dispute about the payment of the applicant's wages.

"Mr Angus then decided to treat this short exchange as a resignation, but did not convey this to the applicant. The applicant was unaware that Mr Angus considered she had resigned, until she received her final payslip," English said.

Angus' use of the word "resignation" and his reliance on the woman repeating that word back to him through a Facebook post was insufficient to establish the woman resigned, she said.

"This is especially the case as the applicant contacted Mr Angus to clarify that she had not resigned, as soon as she became aware that Mr Angus had made up [and paid out] her final pay."

The ERA found the woman was entitled to reimbursement of any lost wages as well as compensation for hurt and humiliation that arose from the loss of her job and the abrupt manner in which it happened.

Although, English found both parties indicated they made comments about the other that were unflattering in the heat of the moment.

"It seems that both parties bear some responsibility for their actions."

The company was ordered to pay the woman two-and-a-half weeks unpaid wages of $624 as well as eight weeks compensation for lost wages of $2480.

Compensation to the woman for hurt and humiliation of $5000 was also awarded.

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