Cleaning firm to pay laid-off workers $50K

A Queenstown cleaning company that unlawfully dismissed two workers must pay nearly $50,000 in compensation.

An Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision said Awesome Cleaners/Dry Cleaners Ltd employed the male complainant in January last year and his wife about two months later.

Awesome’s director Siteri Khan told the couple on June 9 the business was in financial difficulty because a hotel it had a cleaning contract with had temporarily closed, and she was considering the company’s options.

Two days later, Ms Khan sent the couple letters which gave them two weeks’ notice of redundancy.

The couple went to the ERA claiming unjustifiable dismissal, that they had been underpaid during their employment, and were owed holiday pay.

Awesome did not respond when the couple’s complaint was served on them, and failed to respond to notices of two meetings held by the ERA to consider the case.

In the decision, ERA member Peter van Keulen said an employer had to show a redundancy was genuine.

Awesome did not provide financial information to the couple to justify the decision, and by choosing not to participate in an investigation meeting, failed to take the opportunity to present such evidence to the ERA.

The company held only one meeting with the couple, gave limited information about its position, and did not seek feedback before deciding to dismiss them, Mr van Keulen said.

Despite being contracted to work at least 30 hours a week, the couple were sometimes rostered for fewer hours, and on those weeks were not paid their minimum 30-hour entitlement.

Awesome also failed to pay them correctly for the public holidays they had worked, and after dismissing them, did not give them holiday pay they were owed.

One of the complainants told the ERA her dismissal made her feel depressed, ‘‘worthless’’, and caused her anxiety and stress, particularly about her finances.

Fortunately, both complainants found new jobs the month after they were dismissed.

Mr van Keulen ordered Awesome to pay the couple $13,072.78 in wage arrears and holiday pay, $5996.10 for lost remuneration, and $30,000 compensation for the impact on their wellbeing.