Woman awarded more than $16,000 after unjustified dismissal

A woman has been awarded more than $16,000 after the Employment Relations Authority found she was unjustifiably dismissed by NZ Shopping.Com Company Ltd.

Following a hearing in Queenstown, Gaynor Hillary was awarded $5107.12 as recompense for wages lost resulting from her dismissal, $8000 as compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings and a further $3114.30 as restitution for holiday pay and wages either "improperly deducted or simply not paid".

Authority member Mike Loftus accepted in his determination that Ms Hillary was unjustifiably dismissed by NZ Shopping.Com on February 16, 2010, was owed holiday pay and other money improperly deducted from her pay and alleged money had been deducted by the company to forward to the Ministry of Justice, but it was instead retained by NZ Shopping.Com.

The company denied dismissing Ms Hillary, denied claims of unauthorised deductions, unpaid holidays and failing to forward money to the Ministry of Justice, "though its position has subsequently altered", Mr Loftus said.

He found in favour of Ms Hillary and found Ewan Jones, a minority shareholder who managed the accounts, lacked credibility and was an "unsatisfactory witness".

"His answers were frequently evasive and he often said 'it's covered in my brief' when the sections to which he referred went nowhere near answering the question.

"Ms Hillary's evidence does not face similar criticism."

The company did "not come close to complying" with requirements under the Employment Relations Act 2000 for justified dismissal, with "absolutely no evidence" of any investigation or inquiry of Ms Hillary.

After working for the company for 12 months from October 2008, without an employment contract, Ms Hillary left, but returned again in November 2009.

Towards the end of her initial employment with NZ Shopping, the company received notice from the Ministry of Justice regarding Ms Hillary's unpaid fines.

The ministry required NZ Shopping.Com to deduct money and forward it on.

Ms Hillary said she arranged for NZ Shopping to deduct the money, which Roseanne Jones - one of the company owners - confirmed.

However, Mr Jones disagreed and stated he required authorisation from Ms Hillary which she did not give.

In December 2009, Ms Hillary went to Australia for a holiday with a friend and colleague, who was also Mr Jones' ex-wife.

While there, the women had a disagreement, which resulted in a "substantial deterioration" in their relationship.

On their return, the woman became the acting manager of the business, resulting in "degradation in the working environment".

Ms Hillary received an employment agreement to consider on or about February 3, 2010, which was never signed.

Mrs Jones told the ERA she was becoming concerned about "where things were going with Gaynor" and thought it time to "protect the business".

The Justice Ministry advised Ms Hillary on February 8 no payments for her fines had been received, which meant additional penalties had been added.

Ms Hillary took February 10 and 11 off as sick leave, having received approval from Mrs Jones, but when she returned to work on February 15 found she had not been paid for those days.

After questioning the owners, Mrs Jones said "advice of approval had not been passed to Mr Jones who prepares the pay".

A dispute arose between Ms Hillary and Mr Jones about her sick leave, pay records and unpaid fines.

Regarding the latter, she told Mr Jones she wanted to be paid in full, would take responsibility for her own debts and had not authorised a deduction from her wages for payment of her fines.

He refused and said it was "all organised" with the ministry.

After getting documents to support her claim for sick pay, Mr Jones suggested she take the rest of the day off.

"She says she was upset, thought that a good idea and did.

"Mr Jones denies that, claiming she stormed out, having advised her resignation amidst a stream of obscenities."

When Ms Hillary arrived at work the next day, Mr Jones "walked in and asked me what I was doing there".

"Ewan then said if I did not leave the premises he would call the police and trespass me."

Ms Hillary said she was "shocked" but remained there and said she would not leave until she had received her pay records.

Mr Loftus said after ceasing her employment, a summary of wages showed $1347 had been deducted for forwarding to the Ministry of Justice, and another $370 deducted for payment for the acting manager of the company.

Neither deduction had been authorised by Ms Hillary.

A letter from the ministry dated June 10, 2010, showed the money had not been paid.

"As events transpired, NZ Shopping eventually forwarded the monies to the Ministry of Justice in October 2010."


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