Bar-room battle plays out in court

By Imran Ali

Worker alleges manager offered to cancel debt and provide glowing reference if he quit

A barman has told the Employment Court that he was driven to a beach by his manager and pressured to resign in return for a glowing reference and cancellation of a $300 debt.

Stephen Paul Cross has taken his former employer, Onerahi Hotel, to court after losing a claim of unjustified dismissal in the Employment Relations Authority this year.

The hotel said he had abandoned his 20-month employment and the authority ruled that while Mr Cross was unjustifiably dismissed for drinking on the job, he wouldn't receive any compensation because he "wholly contributed to his dismissal".

He was employed as a barman and duty manager at the Onerahi Hotel in July 2010 and his employment ended in March 2012 after concerns about his drinking while on duty.

At the start of a three-day hearing in the Employment Court in Whangarei this week, Mr Cross gave evidence that pub manager Peter Gardner said to him while both were sitting in a car at the beach: "Vic [pub owner Victor Hill] wants you gone. If you resign, I'll give you a good reference and forgive the $300 debt."

He resigned but then withdrew his resignation before he was advised through a letter from Mr Gardner that he'd be stood down pending a meeting to discuss issues surrounding his drinking at work.

Mr Cross said he agreed to resign under pressure but Mr Gardner said he suggested that he resign as an alternative.

Employment law specialist Gregory Bennett, representing Mr Cross, said the latter was unjustifiably dismissed which caused him stress, hurt and humiliation.

Mr Cross denied being drunk at work and that his boss never requested a urine sample, he said. The former barman said he invited Mr Gardner to check CCTV footage in respect of claims that he was drunk at work but that it was never done.

He said he felt targeted for his outspoken comments about the management deducting money from staff wages for honest mistakes.

Mr Cross said he felt embarrassed to apply for an unemployment benefit and further humiliation after the ERA's decision was pasted on the hotel's noticeboard.

Other staff drank at work but no action was taken against them, he claimed.

Hotels' advocate Marie Menner Ryan said a witness would give evidence that in late February 2012 Mr Cross held a beer up towards the surveillance camera and said: "Up yours Vic. A free one", before saying how pleased he was at not working there. Mr Cross said he wasn't aware of the alleged incident.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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