Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Chef's dismissal 'grossly unjust'

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

The Employment Relations Authority has found the dismissal of a Christchurch chef was "grossly unjust", and it was understandable that she had an outburst in which she called the company's justification for making her redundant a "f****** ruse".

Natasha James was awarded nearly $30,000 in compensation and lost wages after ERA member member James Crichton found the company had not followed due process.

Ms James was employed as the kitchen manager and head chef for Christchurch charitable organisation La Famia since July 2011 but in October that year was told her job would would be merged and either she or the other employee would be made redundant.

The company said this was happening because it was in financial difficulty.

It claimed Ms James became "belligerent" and told her boss, Harmon Wilfred, that the company was not struggling financially and that "the entire presentation was a f****** ruse".

She was suspended from work on full pay after that.

Mr Wilfred said he was harassed by Ms James and "peppered" with phone messages and emails to the point where he issued a trespass notice against her. She never returned to work and regarded herself as being unjustifiably dismissed.

Mr Crichton said he had no hesitation concluding that she was.

"La Famia, as employer, had an absolute obligation to enter into a robust and genuine process of consultation before determining that the position ... was surplus to its requirements," he said.

"That simply did not happen and in consequence La Famia failed absolutely in their obligations to undertake a fair process in accordance with New Zealand's law."

Mr Crichton said he was persuaded that the predominant motive for La Famia getting rid of Ms James was not the redundancy but various concerns about her behaviour, including that she was disruptive and upset staff.

"The Authority finds that the employer simply took advantage of the expiry notice period as a way of ending a relationship that had become unsatisfactory to it."

While not wanting to condone Ms James' behaviour, Mr Crichton said it was "hardly surprising that she flew off the handle and behaved as she did".

"She saw the situation for what it was, a fait accompli."

He awarded Ms James $5000 compensation, $4000 for her final pay cheque which she never received, and lost wages of $20,900 for the six months she was out of work following the dismissal.

- APNZ

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