Two cases, two claims, one punishment

HRM outlines the details and outcomes of two recent cases heard by the ERA, which saw one employer vindicated and another heavily fined.

Two cases, two claims, one punishment
The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) released two judgements this week, outlining two very different cases with two very different outcomes for the employers involved. 

Constructive dismissal claim shelved

A woman who was instructed not to wear trousers in the workplace and was allegedly threatened for rolling her eyes at her boss lost her case against her former employer.

In March 2014, Traci Booth resigned from the Palmerston North-based Coo-ee Drycleaning, where she had been employed as a mobile service facility driver.

Booth claimed she had been constructively dismissed, but the ERA found that her evidence was unreliable.

The ERA was presented with a letter Booth had written to her former employer, which claimed she had been “treated badly, bullied, insulted and blamed for things that were not of her doing”.

Specific allegations included one that her employer, Andrew Pearce, had told her not to wear pants in the workplace, which Booth found “confusing and offensive”.

She also claimed that he had criticised her for rolling her eyes.

“I hate people who do that,” he allegedly told her. “If you were a man...”

Member of the authority Michael Loftus said that there was an “unstated implication” that Pearce had threatened Booth.

Booth also claimed that she had not being given training when she had requested it.

Coo-ee responded that it had only ever attempted to deal with Booth’s employment issues.

“Coo-ee contends it did so in a reasonable manner and the claims of harassment and bullying are unsustainable,” said Loftus.

Loftus dismissed Booth’s claim of constructive dismissal on the grounds that Booth could not prove her claims, stating that her evidence was “inadequate”.

Other employees of the business told the ERA that “little untoward had happened” between Booth and Pearce, and Loftus found that the ‘no pants’ rule was actually an instruction not to wear jeans to work.

Gisborne employer slapped with $30K fine

Meanwhile, a Gisborne-based contracting company was ordered by the ERA to pay $30,000 in penalties for breaching employment laws and for arrears owed to employees.

M Contractors – a sole trader that provides seasonal labour to horticultural operations – had legal action taken against it by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)’s Labour Inspectorate, after a complaint about the company’s failure to pay holiday entitlements was investigated.

The Labour Inspectorate found that the employer, Mele Ford, failed to keep and produce compliant wage records, leave records and employment agreements.

It was also found that the organisation owed $19,455.30 in holiday pay to 31 former employees.

The ERA found that Ford’s business practices were “irresponsible” and “reckless”, and ordered her to repay the unpaid holiday pay as well as a $10,000 penalty for the breaches.

Labour Inspectorate Wellington Regional Manager Kevin Finnegan said that employment records are a necessity, and must be kept by law.

“Flouting basic employment laws not only harms the workers, but also the reputation of the horticulture sector which Mrs Ford was supplying labour to,” he warned.

“This ruling sends a clear message to employers that failure to comply with the minimum employment standards will not be tolerated.

“Mrs Ford is no longer operating her business.”

Employers who breach the same legislation will be subject to enforcement action which can include penalties of up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for companies.

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