Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Cook awarded $7500 compensation by ERA

Photo / File / Thinkstock
Photo / File / Thinkstock

A cook who says she was sacked and then pushed by her boss has been awarded $7500 compensation by the Employment Relations Authority.

Melissa Spence worked in the kitchen of the Musterer's Hut Cafe in Twizel, which is owned by Lake Ohau Holdings Ltd, from August 2010 until March 2012.

According to the ERA decision, released today, she was guaranteed 15 hours of work per week but when business slowed the cafe's owner, Nyree Schaar, made her redundant because the business could not sustain its wage costs.

She was given six weeks notice but on March 18 - two weeks before the end of her notice period - Mrs Schaar told her to go home early and not come back.

Mrs Schaar said Ms Spence had been rude to another employee and was deliberately working slowly because she was annoyed about being made redundant.

Mrs Schaar came into the kitchen and Ms Spence asked why she was being sent home. She started walking towards Mrs Schaar, who put both her hands out and pushed her backwards.

Mrs Schaar claimed she did this because she was afraid Ms Spence was going to assault her.

In response, Ms Spence said she reacted by pushing back but Mrs Schaar and her husband Pieter claimed Ms Spence punched Mrs Schaar on the shoulder.

Police were called and Ms Spence never returned to work.

A police spokesman said no charges were laid over the incident but said Mrs Schaar was within her rights to escort Ms Spence from the property.

ERA member Christine Hickey determined the decision to send Ms Spence home amounted to a summary dismissal because, although she was on notice that her job was to end, this was not to happen until the end of the month.

She did not accept Mrs Schaar's perception that Ms Spence was going to assault her excused her from instigating "hostile physical conduct".

"In the absence of justification such as self defence, a physical assault on an employee by an employer must always be an unfair action," she said.

Ms Spence told the ERA that her son came home from school after the incident and said that Mrs Schaar's daughter had told their class that Ms Spence had hit her mother.

She said she was "so humiliated I could not go to school to pick our child up", the ERA decision said.

Lake Ohau Holdings Ltd was ordered to pay Ms Spence $7500 compensation.

Ms Spence could not be reached for comment and Mrs Schaar declined to comment.

- APNZ

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