Sacking costs Rock Ferry nearly $10,000

Last updated 08:33 06/05/2014

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Rock Ferry Wines has been ordered to pay almost $10,000 to a cellar door employee who was unfairly dismissed.

The Employment Relations Authority has ruled that Renwick woman Jan Rutherford was unjustifiably dismissed as a winery investigation was not done properly.

Rock Ferry, a winery in Hammerichs Rd near Blenheim, operates a cellar door and cafe.

Rutherford was employed in October 2011 as a cellar door host on a permanent part-time basis. She offered wine tastings and also performed reception duties for the cafe.

Rock Ferry used to have a policy of allowing staff to take part-consumed bottles of wine from the cellar door for their own use.

This changed on August 3, 2013, when staff were advised all leftover wine was to go to the kitchen for use by the chefs, unless permission was given by managers.

Rutherford had queried this with her manager Sheryl Neilsen and the head chef after noticing leftover sparkling wine was being tipped down the sink and leftover red wine was not being used by kitchen staff.

Head chef Becky Wiseman said only white wine was used in cooking and Rutherford said she asked Neilsen if, in that case, staff could take these unwanted varietals home as before.

"Her answer of ‘yeah sure . . . can't see why not' seemed quite logical to me," she said. "As we were still in the kitchen, I assumed Becky would have heard this, but she may not have."

Rutherford then took wine home occasionally, without the managers saying anything, until she was took a part-bottle of sparkling wine home on October 15, 2013.

The determination said that, when Rutherford arrived at work the next morning, she was handed an envelope by business director Angela Wilson, and told to gather her belongings and go home on full pay.

At a later meeting, Rock Ferry owner Tom Hutchison said Rutherford admitted taking wine from the premises.

"She also said she was aware of the company policy on leftover wine and that staff who wished to remove wine had to obtain permission," the ruling said. "He goes to say Rutherford said she had implied permission due to the conversation she had had with Neilsen and Wiseman."

This was not investigated properly by Rock Ferry, which asked staff only if Rutherford had asked to take the wine home on October 15, and did not discuss her proposition that the change had been confirmed by subsequent behaviour with either manager.

Employment Relations Authority member Michael Loftus said Rock Ferry asked staff the wrong questions, and the issue of whether Rutherford had permission in the manner she suggested was not fully investigated.

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"I conclude Ms Rutherford has a personal grievance as she was unjustifiably dismissed."

He ordered Rock Ferry Wines to pay Rutherford $4825 gross as recompense for wages lost as a result of the dismissal and a further $5000 as compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

Rutherford declined to comment yesterday, and Hutchison was unable to be contacted.

The winery has until May 23 to appeal the ruling.

- Marlborough

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