Chef who harassed boss wins $30k

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 13:32 17/01/2013

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A chef who verbally abused her boss and harassed him at home has been awarded nearly $30,000.

An Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision released yesterday ruled that Christchurch organisation La Famia unjustifiably dismissed Natasha James from her job as a kitchen manager and head chef in October 2011.

James was awarded nearly $30,000 in lost wages, compensation and for her final pay.

ERA member James Crichton "had no hesitation" in finding James was unjustifiably dismissed and the restructuring that disestablished her role was completely mismanaged by La Famia.

James started her role with La Famia on July 13, 2011.

On October 7, 2011, she was called to a meeting with Harmon Wilfred, of La Famia, where she was told her position was being merged with another, and one person would be made redundant.

The business said this was because of financial difficulties.

James allegedly became "belligerent and verbally cursed and attacked [Wilfred]" and called the presentation a "f...... ruse".

Wilfred's lawyer advised him to suspend James on pay.

During that weekend, James attempted to contact Wilfred several times by phone and email.

Wilfred claimed he was harassed by James so much that he eventually issued a trespass notice and considered involving the police.

In his ruling, Crichton said: "The authority is persuaded that by the time of the termination of the relationship, the predominant motive for its end was not the redundancy at all but the various concerns La Famia had about Ms James's behaviour."

Crichton said La Famia had an obligation to enter into a robust and genuine process of consultation before determining that the position James occupied was surplus to requirements.

"This simply did not happen and in consequence La Famia failed absolutely in their obligations to undertake a fair and just process in accordance with New Zealand law."

He said the authority did not want to condone James' behaviour, but thought it was understandable.

"It is hardly surprisingly that she flew off the handle and behaved as she did. She saw the situation for what it was, a fait accompli."

No compensation was awarded for unjustifiable suspension because of James' conduct during the weekend after her suspension.

James was awarded $5000 compensation, $20,900 for lost wages for the time she was out of work after her dismissal, and $4000 for her final pay.

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- The Press

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