Whangarei worker wins compensation for unjustified dismissal

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A Whangarei woman unjustifiably dismissed from her first job out of school has been awarded lost wages and $4000 in compensation.

Nina Walker worked for Simply Kids Preschool in Onerahi from March 25, 2015 until June 12, 2015 when she was dismissed by company owner Irina Liebig. Ms Liebig said the dismissal was justified under the 90-day trial period, but Ms Walker took a claim for unjustified dismissal to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) which this week ruled in her favour.

ERA member Eleanor Robinson ordered Ms Liebig to pay Ms Walker $4000 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings; $474.95 in lost wages and $3250 in costs. Ms Liebig said she did not plan to appeal the decision.

The authority heard that Ms Walker was given two individual employment agreements (IEAs) about a month apart after starting, but was given no opportunity to take the second agreement away to seek independent advice on it.

Ms Walker was warned once not to sit down at work, but apart from that had received no complaints about her performance.

On June 12, 2015, she was called into Ms Liebig's office and asked how she liked the job.

Ms Walker said she enjoyed the job, but Ms Liebig told her she did not consider the job was right for Ms Walker and that would be the last day of her employment.

Ms Robinson found that when Ms Walker signed her first IEA she was already an employee and, therefore, the 90-day trial provisions of the Employment Relations Act did not apply.

She found there was no valid trial period between Ms Walker and Simply Kids and that neither the first or second IEA set out reasons for the fixed term nature of the agreements, which is required under the Act.

Ms Robinson said Ms Liebig must establish that the dismissal was a decision that a fair and reasonable employer could have made under the circumstances.

"There is no evidence, other than a minor reference to sitting down during the working day, which was not repeated, that any disciplinary issues had been raised with Ms Walker ... nor was she advised at any time that her employment was at risk," Ms Robinson said.

"Whilst I accept that Ms Liebig is a small employer and as such lacks the resources normally available to a larger employer when dealing with disciplinary matters, I consider that there were major rather than minor flaws in that the only procedure followed was to advise Ms Walker that she was no longer employed."

She said the job at Simply Kids was Ms Walker's first employment after leaving school and the abrupt nature of its termination caused Ms Walker distress and a significant loss of confidence.

- Northern Advocate

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