Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Worker sacked after two days awarded $6000 in compensation

A salad bar worker was sacked by text message, after two days on the job. File photo / thinkstock
A salad bar worker was sacked by text message, after two days on the job. File photo / thinkstock

A salad bar worker who was sacked by text message after being accused of stealing on her second day on the job has been awarded more than $6000 in compensation.

Amberleigh Howe-Thornley applied for a job at Salad Bowl in Nelson after the company advertised for someone to operate a new mobile salad cart it was planning to open last August.

She was asked to come in to Salad Bowl's existing store a few days later.

At the end of her second day, company owner Randi Westphal found the till was $52.36 short - a larger variance than she had ever found before.

She concluded Ms Howe-Thornley had taken a $50 note which had been in the till earlier, and sent her a text message saying: "Hi Amber, no need to come into Salad Bowl tomorrow. We'll be in touch. Thx, Randi."

Ms Howe-Thornley thought little of the text because the new salad cart was not due to open until the following week.

But when she texted on opening day to ask what was happening, Ms Westphal responded: "Nothing. Please return t-shirt and feel free to get another job."

Ms Howe-Thornley asked if she would be getting paid for her two days of work, but received the response: "Money missing from till is reason you don't have a job!"

When Ms Howe-Thornley protested she had "absolutely no idea" what she was talking about, Ms Westphal responded: "Goodbye."

Ms Howe-Thornley took a personal grievance claim to the Employment Relations Authority, seeking compensation for unjustified dismissal, unpaid wages and hurt and humiliation.

Ms Westphal denied ever offering her a job, saying she had only asked Ms Howe-Thornley to come in for a three-hour trial to see if she was suitable.

But the authority found Ms Howe-Thornley was an employee because she had been preparing salads and serving customers.

It noted Ms Westphal's own evidence that she would have paid Ms Howe-Thornley for her work until she found the money missing.

The authority found said there was no evidence to support the allegation of theft, and the decision to dismiss Ms Howe-Thornley was unjustified.

"Ms Westphal was making a serious accusation yet it was not raised and there was no discussion or attempt to ascertain what happened or why when the decision to dismiss was made."

The authority ordered Salad Bowl to pay $67.50 in unpaid wages, as well as $1215 in lost wages for the six-week period it took Ms Howe-Thornley to find another job.

It also ordered Salad Bowl to pay $5000 in compensation for the hurt and humiliation of the accusation of theft and the traumatising effect of dismissal.

Costs were reserved.


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