Orchard to pay sacked worker $15K

A Cromwell orchard company has been ordered to pay a former employee more than $15,000 in compensation and lost pay after it alleged he sexually harassed a colleague.

An Employment Relations Authority determination says the man was unjustifiably dismissed and orders Suncrest Orchard Ltd, operating as Jones Family Fruit Store, to pay him $2635 in lost wages and $12,750 in compensation.

The determination was subject to a 28-day suppression order regarding the applicant’s name and to give Suncrest Orchard time to challenge it.

The applicant is referred to as MUF.

MUF was employed from 2010 until November 2017 as liaison manager, working with tourists.

On October 22, a staff member told office manager Carolyn Roughan she had seen MUF touching another employee (referred to as A). A brushed MUF’s hand away.

The staff member said A told her he kept doing it and she had asked him not to.

Ms Roughan spoke to orchard director Michael Jones and the pair viewed shop floor CCTV footage that captured the incident.

On October 26, Ms Roughan received this text from A: "I know he’s only joking. We are alright. So I don’t want to get him in trouble and I don’t want this to go any further."

On November 1, Ms Roughan emailed MUF about the investigation, and after he replied, decided serious misconduct had occurred.

In an email sent the following day the allegation wording changed from "inappropriate touching" to "sexual harassment".

MUF was invited to a disciplinary meeting and told he could bring a support person. He initially said he would attend alone. Later, he said A would be the support person.

On November 6, MUF, supported by A, met Mr Jones and Ms Roughan. MUF declined to view the camera footage and a written account was read.

MUF said he was "just joking" and had not done anything wrong. A also stated MUF was joking. On November 7, Mr Jones emailed MUF advising him serious misconduct had occurred and proposed terminating his employment. He was given a right of reply before a final decision was made.

MUF responded but Mr Jones did not consider it enough to change the outcome.

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