Sophie Ryan is online editor for the Business Herald

Retail manager forced out of her job by 'pestering' boss

Lawyers said operations manager Craig Ireland had "made a pest of himself" in his dealings with retail assistant Kelli Balani. Photo / Getty
Lawyers said operations manager Craig Ireland had "made a pest of himself" in his dealings with retail assistant Kelli Balani. Photo / Getty

A retail manager was forced out of her job after being "pestered" by her manager, the Employment Relations Authority has found.

Kelli Balani worked at The Clearance Shed in Pukekohe, south Auckland, for a year ending September 2014, when she resigned from her position.

Six months after she finished in her role she lodged an application with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) claiming she was sexually harassed, unjustifiably disadvantaged in her employment and her resignation was really a constructive dismissal.

Balani told the ERA that after finishing her job interview in 2013 with Allen Court and Craig Ireland, the two owners of the company, she received a hug from both men.

Ireland, who was operations manager for the company, would check in on the Pukekohe store where Balani worked on a fortnightly basis. Balani said when Ireland arrived and left he would hug her.

Balani told the ERA that these hugs only became uncomfortable for her once Ireland began to send her text messages, ring her cell phone and organise meetings outside of work from May 2014 onwards.

In July, Balani said she formed the impression "something was very wrong" with Ireland's interaction with her when she realised he had kept their meetings outside of work secret from his business partner Court.

On the advice of her psychologist, she limited her responses to Ireland's text messages and when he visited the Pukekohe store she extended her hand for a handshake when he opened his arms to hug her.

She explained to him the hugs made her uncomfortable, to which Ireland replied that the pair had "chemistry". A month later Balani decided to resign.

Member of the Authority, Robin Arthur, said Ireland's actions did not meet the threshold of sexual harassment, but Balani had been unjustifiably disadvantaged in her position by being pestered by Ireland outside of work hours.

Lawyers for the company said Ireland had "made a pest of himself" in his dealings with Balani.

His behaviour had "seriously damaged the trust and confidence" she was entitled to as an employee, Arthur said.

Customers had complained about Balani's service and Ireland told the Authority this was why he wanted to meet Balani outside of work hours.

Ireland had breached the good faith owed to Balani by not being transparent about the customers' complaints, Arthur said.

Arthur said it would have been reasonably foreseeable that Balani's anxiety around the interaction with Ireland would make her employment untenable and she would resign. Therefore grounds for constructed dismissal were met, Arthur said.

Balani was awarded $6000 compensation from Ireland and $6000 compensation from the company. She was also to be paid $7000 in lost wages and a contribution of $1000 towards her medical expenses for anxiety.

Read the full decision from the Employment Relations Authority here:

- NZ Herald

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