$21k award for dismissed Whitestone Cheese worker

A former employee of Whitestone Cheese in Oamaru has been awarded $21,000 after the Employment Relations Authority found she was unjustifiably dismissed.

Rochelle Kelland worked at the cheese factory between 2013 and July 31, 2018, when she was dismissed after an exchange with another employee led to several meetings with her employer, Whitestone Cheese Company Ltd.

Mrs Kelland was concerned that after the exchange she was being excluded at work, and was sent home upset on July 24.

In a July 31 letter terminating her employment effective immediately, Whitestone chief executive Simon Berry said her behaviour was the cause of others no longer wanting to work with her; she was disruptive and contributed to a feeling of overall unease in the workplace; and the company did not see the relationship between her and her co-workers could be repaired.

It also referred to a reluctance on her part to accept any responsibility for the situation, including her subsequent behaviour towards her line manager, and said the company had no reassurance the disruptive and aggressive behaviour would not continue.

Mrs Kelland said her dismissal and suspension was procedurally and substantively unjustified in that she had raised issues about co-worker bullying, but there was no willingness to resolve the issues, and that Whitestone Cheese had not acted in good faith in that it failed to properly disclose all documentation and material that led to her dismissal.

Whitestone Cheese did not accept that any of its actions were unjustifiable but the authority found it had not acted fairly or reasonably on several fronts.

It said Whitestone had not investigated properly or given time for genuine consideration of its responses.

It said Whitestone, had it been a fair and reasonably employer, could not have concluded Mrs Kelland's behaviour amounted to serious misconduct and could not have reached the decision to dismiss her.

Other options including mediation and/or relocation to another department had not been pursued or properly considered.

The authority ordered Whitestone pay Mrs Kelland $4420 in lost wages, and $17,600 compensation for humiliation, lost of dignity and injury to feelings.