Sophie Ryan is online editor for the Business Herald

Work on family farm ends in dispute

A woman who worked on a farm owned by her father and stepmother has been awarded compensation by the Employment Relations Authority after the work relationship disintegrated and she was forced to leave.

Tessa Row worked as a farm assistant for two months in 2014 on her father and stepmother's West Coast dairy farm and lived in a cottage on the farm separate from the owners.

Row took a claim on unjustifiable dismissal to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), saying she was physically and verbally abused by her father and step-mother and forced to leave her job and home on the farm.

Row told the ERA she was rostered off from work three days in April 2014 when ex-Tropical Cyclone Ita caused damage on the West Coast. Row had driven to Fox Glacier to see her boyfriend and friends and called her father to say she wouldn't be returning for work as planned because she wanted to attend a funeral for the father of a friend and the roads were unsafe after the cyclone.

Row's father said he was sick and couldn't cover the milking work for her, then hung up on her.

Her stepmother began texting Row, and when they couldn't agree on a resolution the step-mother said "if you don't come back 2 nite and milk in the morning you are fired immediately. Your stuff will be put out of the house and your horse will be put out on the road."

Her stepmother told the ERA the text message was never meant as dismissal, but intended on showing Row how seriously she and her father took her intention not to come back to work the next day and spur her into returning.

Row returned to the farm five days later after the roads were cleared and power was restored to Fox Glacier after the cyclone.

An altercation took place between Row, her father and her stepmother, and Member of the ERA Christine Hickey said there were many disparities between the evidence given by the three people.

There was no agreement on how the argument began or what the topic of the argument was, but both parties allege the other was violent, aggressive and rude.

Row's father admitted to the ERA he made a hurtful comment amount Row's ex-boyfriend, but denied saying a number of other things Row alleged.

Hickey said there were many disputed elements to the incident, but concluded it occurred and intimidated Row.

"The key issue for me is whether Ms Row was scared. I conclude that she was because that is backed up by [a witness'] evidence."

A few days after the argument Row left the farm and went to Fox Glacier to look for work.

Hickey said the combination of the stepmother's text threatening to put Row's belongings and horse on the road and the argument destroyed Row's trust and confidence in her employer.

Hickey concluded Row was constructively dismissed from her employment because she did not leave the position of her own free will. Row's claim for unpaid wages was made too late in the piece for the ERA to consider it, but the Authority awarded her $7,000 in compensation, which was reduced to $4,000 because of her role in the not returning from Fox Glacier.

Read the full decision here:

- NZ Herald

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