ERA awards ex-employee almost $20,000

Repeated, unwanted sexual advances and an unjustified dismissal have seen a Timaru businessman ordered to pay almost $20,000 to a former employee.

Aaron Bennetts owned Aaron's Furniture to Go, in Oamaru, and Furniture World, in Washdyke. Both have since been rebranded as John's Furniture Warehouse, but Bennetts still owns them.

Bennetts was the subject of a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) of sexual harassment and unjustified dismissal. The complaint was upheld but, because of the sexual nature of the complaint, the complainant, known as "A", may not be identified.

The ERA this week released the judgment by Michael Loftus.

It said the complainant started working for Bennetts two days after meeting him. She was not given an employment agreement.

"A claims Mr Bennetts made a number of advances in which he proposed an intimate relationship during the employment. She says she rejected those approaches and advised they were unwelcome. Despite that, they continued," Loftus said. Bennetts claimed he and A had a pre-existing consensual relationship in which A provided sexual services for reward. A denied this and the tribunal favoured her evidence. A few months later A was dismissed.

"A says Mr Bennetts approached her at work on the morning and told her she was being made redundant and this was her last day."

During the investigation, Bennetts was asked if he had justified the decision and told the woman that the business was struggling. Bennetts replied, "Of course she knew - she was the [expletive] employee, wasn't she."

The ERA was also critical of Bennetts' conduct during the investigation.

"His approach is best summarised by his own repeated comments about the process being a joke . . ."

Loftus said Bennetts was not a credible witness.

He was ordered to pay $12,000 in compensation, three months' lost wages at $7182.50, and $695.20 unpaid holiday leave - all up, $19,877.70.

The Timaru Herald