Payout to teen for docked pay

By Cliff Taylor

A "Brave" teenager who took his boss to the employment court for illegally docking his wages has won a payout of more than $14,000.

Golf-mad Hayden Burns, who used text language in his resignation letter, took a case for unjustified constructive dismissal to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

The windscreen fitter was angry about a weekly deduction from his wages for repairs to a work vehicle.

But his boss at Christchurch firm Autoglas-Stieger, Franz Stieger, said that he wasn't given a fair hearing by the authority.

Burns was 18 when he started with the company in December 2005.

Five months into his first full-time job he accidentally scraped the side of a vehicle with a work van.

A fortnight later the company started deducting $100 from his weekly pre-tax wage of less than $350 to cover the cost of repairs.

The firm told the authority the teenager verbally agreed to the deduction but Burns denied this.

He was also given a written warning about his appearance and banned from driving company vehicles but refused to let the matter drop.

According to the authority's ruling, the teenager "plucked up courage" to challenge Stieger about the deductions from his pay.

Burns said he was told to find another job or put up with them, and Stieger said he told the teenager he could stay in the firm's workshop or look for another job.

A few days later, Burns wrote Stieger a resignation letter almost entirely in text language, then went to the authority seeking compensation and lost wages.

Burns said losing his job ruined his self-esteem and he was unemployed for five months.

The ERA found in his favour and awarded him $6069 for reimbursement of lost wages and $8000 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

His advocate, Robert Thompson, described it as a "fantastic decision".

"He's a meek young man. He took a hell of a whack and he was very brave to go through it," said Thompson. "For a young man he was very proud, he wouldn't go on a benefit. He decided he would battle through."

Burns, a Canterbury representative golfer with a handicap of three, told the Herald on Sunday the case had been "long and difficult".

"It paid off in the end, it's put me back on my own two feet."

Now 21 and working as a printer's assistant, he said it was a big step to go through the court process, but he was determined to see it through.

He advised other young workers to "stick up for themselves" if they thought they had been treated badly.

Stieger thought the ERA's decision was unfair. He said he made mistakes but felt his company hadn't had a "fair go" during the hearing.

He and his wife had given the school-leaver a chance to "make something of himself", giving him clothes and lending him money when he couldn't afford lunch.

"His performance wasn't good. His main interest was golf."

Stieger said that he would appeal against the decision.

- Herald on Sunday

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