A Hamilton woman accused of stealing from her employer and forced to resign from her job as a caregiver has been vindicated by an Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ruling in her favour.
Michelle Rota-Tawha, 40, worked for Radius Residential Care Ltd for more than two years at Maeroa Lodge caring for elderly residents when she was accused of stealing pots and pans and chairs from her employer.
The ERA ruling found that Ms Rota-Tawha resigned because her employer breached its duty to her (constructive dismissal) and the dismissal was unjustifiable. She was awarded $5000.
In October 2012, Maeroa Lodge manager Judy Green-Philpott called the local community police to investigate a string of missing items.
Armed with an accusation from an anonymous staff member, Ms Rota-Tawha and two others were investigated and Constable William Cuthers visited her at her home.
"I was just shocked," Ms Rota-Tawha said. "It was embarrassing."
Mr Cuthers told her there was information that that she took pots and pans from the workplace and that they were in her home.
"I actually invited him in to have a look for himself so he came in, sat down, had a look around, was there for about 10 minutes and he left."
No stolen items were found but Ms Rota-Tawha said she felt "victimised" by her ordeal and was uncomfortable about returning to work.
"I wasn't prepared to go back to work under those circumstances of being accused of something I never did," she said.
She took two-days stress leave and returned the following week to be told about other items that had gone missing including a laptop computer, food and cutlery and money from the wallet of a resident who died.
She felt her name had been tarnished by the accusations and struggled to find residential care work since the accusations.
"I applied for a job at another rest home and they said come back after the case is over. I want to keep working with the elderly. I love it.
"It wasn't about the wages. That was poor. It was about being there for them."
Ms Rota-Tawha's father died last month and her mother Dawn Tawha said the 10-month battle to clear her daughter's name had taken its toll.
They tried to hide the shame of the accusations from whanau and friends and she said the ruling had lifted a weight from their shoulders.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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