Pink hair worker gets $18k payout

VINDICATED: Caroline Hanger, awarded more than $18,000 from an ERA decision against Ray White Real Estate.
VINDICATED: Caroline Hanger, awarded more than $18,000 from an ERA decision against Ray White Real Estate.

A Feilding real estate company has been ordered to pay a former employee more than $18,000 after it suspended her for having pink hair and paid her less than the minimum wage.

An Employment Relations Authority (ERA) report released to the Manawatu Standard ruled that the actions of staff at Ray White Real Estate in Feilding led former property manager Caroline Hanger to resign.

The company's actions were deemed to have created an unjustified dismissal, but the company's principal says he is considering appealing against the decision.

Hanger worked for Ray White from March 2012 until she resigned in July last year.

During that time, she reported to property management manager Maria Bayley and Ray White Palmerston North and Feilding principal Stu Fleming.

There were minor issues during Hanger's time there, including an admission that she used a work car for travel outside the appropriate level.

On June 12 last year she turned up to work training with bright pink stripes through her hair - the result of a botched dye job.

After a discussion with Bayley, Hanger agreed to have it fixed by Friday, June 14.

This was not done by the agreed date, despite Hanger saying she had been washing her hair twice a day to get the dye out. The following Monday, the pink stripes remained and Hanger was told by Bayley to go home and get it sorted.

Hanger left the office, then went on sick leave before resigning the next month. Hanger said she was suspended by Bayley because of the colour of her hair, without being given prior warning that a suspension could happen. Hanger's employment agreement said she should "maintain a high standard of personal presentation" and stay "consistent with a professional, neat and well groomed image".

Bayley said sending Hanger home was not a suspension, but a move to ensure she held firm to the agreement. The ERA said there was no way Hanger could be sent home without being suspended. There was no discussion about why the pink streaks were still visible, or what efforts were made to get them out, which the authority said was unfair and breached Hanger's employment agreement.

The authority also found Hanger had been paid less than the minimum wage by Ray White, resulting in an underpayment of $1422, excluding holiday pay. She was also underpaid $1516 in commission, after not receiving written notification of changes to commission payments.

Hanger also claimed Ray White deliberately tried to coerce her into resigning.

While the ERA said there was no evidence to show Hanger was forced out, the authority did decide the resignation was brought about by a combination of events, including the suspension, which all created an unjustified dismissal.

Ray White must pay Hanger $18,700, made up of four months' remuneration, $6000 compensation, and the underpaid wages and commission.

Ray White must also pay 5 per cent annual interest on the underpaid wages and commission from July 2013 until the date of payment.

Ray White has 28 days to appeal the decision.

Fleming accepted Hanger had been paid incorrectly, and was happy to put that right.

But he was dissapointed with other parts of the decision.

"We tried very hard to be good employers."

While the company would look at appealing the decision, Fleming said the cost of it would need to be taken into account.

Hanger said the saga had been emotionally draining, and she had to do a confidence course to help her get back into the work force.

Working for Ray White had been a good experience for the most part, she said. "It was a job I absolutely loved and I was proud to work for them."

Manawatu Standard