'Just put a plaster on it': Funeral worker's medical certificate binned

Sharron Matthews worked at Newberrys Funeral Home in Whangārei for just over a year. Photo: NZ...
Sharron Matthews worked at Newberrys Funeral Home in Whangārei for just over a year. Photo: NZ Herald
A trainee funeral home worker who needed stitches and a splint after cutting herself during embalming has been awarded $25,441 after she was told it was only her finger and she didn't need sick leave.

Sharron Matthews had been working at Newberrys Funeral Home in Whangārei for just over a year when she resigned after she watched her boss throw her medical certificate into the bin.

While performing an embalming procedure, Matthews cut her finger with a scalpel and instead of receiving medical attention, she was told to: "Just put a plaster on it".

After seeing the blood, her work mentor tied a string to her finger in an attempt to stem the bleeding.

"I wanted to get medical attention but I felt like I wasn't allowed to," Matthews told the Employment Relations Authority [ERA] earlier this year.

"I left work to attend White Cross. My finger was stitched and splinted up and I received a medical certificate to excuse my work until the injury had healed."

Matthews told the authority she handed over her medical certificate to her boss and director of the company, Freda Taylor, but instead was given a third warning for leaving work.

"She told me it was only my finger and said I had left my job without handing over my work.

"She then threw my medical certificate into the bin."

Taylor told the authority it was unfortunate she wasn't in the building when it happened because the seriousness of the cut was not realised.

"The injury occurred due to proper procedures not being complied with. The appropriate equipment was provided and the use of these would have prevented the accident," Taylor said.

But Matthews said she was doing it how she had been shown to by the employee who had trained her.

She went on to tell the Authority how she was still made to work, despite having a medical certificate.

"I was made to wash cars. My dressing got wet and my finger opened up again, I had to have it restitched."

Taylor denied the allegation that she didn't accept the first medical certificate and told the authority she did not realise the seriousness of the cut.

Matthews also claimed to be incorrectly paid, discriminated against on her age, family status and sexual orientation and was exploited by her work mentor.

"I raised concerns about the way my 'mentor' was treating me, but I was told to just grow a backbone.

"He hadn't trained me properly. He would force me to purchase cigarettes and food for him and one night he turned up at my house drunk, demanding me to undertake work while not being on call."

Instead, Matthews was the one who received written warnings from Taylor for swearing at work, accessing Facebook on the company cellphone and using bad language in texts.

She was also accused of selling class A drugs and said she had to drive after curfew and alone while on a learner's licence for the job.

Taylor acknowledged looking into allegations of drug dealing but said she didn't accuse or believe Matthews was involved.

She gave evidence of becoming aware of the drug dealing allegation from an anonymous phone call.

"Although I told Matthews's mother about it, I didn't have enough information to know whether it was true or not. I didn't believe it."

Member of the Employment Relations Authority, Sarah Kennedy, found Matthews to be disadvantaged, awarding her wage arrears, loss of wages and compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

"I consider that the failure to address genuine concerns about workplace safety, both psychological and physical, incorrect pay, and discrimination in the workplace, means that cumulatively these actions of [Newberrys] caused Ms Matthew's resignation."

Newberrys Funeral Home was ordered to pay $25,441 to Matthews.

Open Justice approached Taylor but she declined to comment.

- By Ellen Thompson,
Open Justice Multimedia Journalist, Auckland

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