OPINION: Ms A and her husband were employed by Ms C in late May-June 2013. Ms A was employed as the calf rearer for the spring and relief milker as and when needed.
Her husband was to be farm manager. The terms of his employment were agreed and the couple moved into their farm accommodation.
On August 7, Ms C and Ms A agreed to a $15-an-hour wage for Ms A's time calf rearing and relief milking, up to a maximum of five hours a day. Despite requesting one several times, Ms A never received an employment agreement.
On August 17, Ms A again requested the employment agreement and raised various other employment matters with Ms C. Ms C told her "F... off my farm". The two argued further; Ms A attempted to sort her issues with Ms C but this failed and she was told that she was no longer to work on the farm. Ten days later she was told that she could not remain in the farm accommodation and she moved in with her daughter. Ms A's husband remained until he, too, was dismissed.
During the hearing, the Employment Relations Authority referred to section 103A of the Employment Relations Act 2000, which requires a dismissal to be justified. The authority determined that a fair and reasonable employer would not have dismissed Ms A in all the circumstances.
Ms A provided evidence to the authority that she had to find work after her dismissal. She remained unemployed at the time of the hearing.
The authority made these orders; Ms C was to pay Ms A the following:
$4500 compensation for hurt and humiliation caused by the unjustified dismissal;
$5400 in lost wages for the three months immediately after the dismissal;
$1155 in wage arrears owed to Ms A, with 5 per cent interest accrued on $1155 since August 17 to the date it is paid;
$71.56 filing fee.
The authority found that Ms A had not contributed to her dismissal in any way, her behaviour was not blameworthy nor causative of the dismissal.
Significantly, Ms C did not appear at the authority, nor had she filed a statement in reply before the hearing, which would have given her account of the dismissal. The authority was satisfied that Ms C had been served the appropriate documents, and as such it was happy to proceed with the hearing.
Important to remember, because Ms C chose not to attend the hearing, the authority heard only one side the story. If Ms C had given her version of events, it may well have been that the authority found some fault with Ms A's behaviour and the orders made might have been reduced accordingly.
Putting to one side the fact that Ms A did not have an employment agreement (this is a legal requirement) we go back to the initial conversation where the dismissal occurred - process process process - instead of getting angry Ms C had only to ask Ms A to have a formal meeting to discuss the issues Ms A had - and the argument and dismissal would not have ensued.
Mary-Jane Thomas is a partner at Preston Russell Law. She is always interested in ideas for articles. Email her at Mary-Jane.Thomas@prlaw.co.nz.
- The Southland Times