Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Fish and chip worker compensated over confused sacking

Photo / Alan Gibson
Photo / Alan Gibson

A fish and chip worker who wrongly thought she was sacked for stealing from the till has been awarded more than $10,000 in compensation and lost pay.

Rachel Stephens was actually fired from The Fish N Chip Shop in Palmerston for arriving at work late that day and because she made comment, which her boss thought was a threat, to take money from the till.

However, the Employment Relations Authority has ruled the business dismissed Ms Stephens without following the proper process and giving her an opportunity to reply to earlier warning letters.

In January last year one of the company directors, Natasha Bate, gave Ms Stephens a warning letter that raised issues including arriving late to work, using her cellphone during work hours and swearing in the kitchen, the ERA decision said.

After that Ms Stephens' shifts were changed slightly to help her avoid being late for work.

About a month later, Ms Stephens received a second letter confirming the changes, the ERA said.

The letter stated towards the end: "Rachel you must be aware this is your last chance. We will no longer be taken advantage of, we will however monitor what is happening and if we feel that nothing has or will change then your employment will be terminated."

On February 8, the shop till was short by $50.80 and Ms Stephens believed Ms Bates held her responsible for the missing money.

Three days later Ms Bates and the shop's other director, Christopher Arbuckle were at the shop and Ms Stephens requested a meeting to discuss issues raised, but was refused because Ms Bates said her tone was "aggressive", the decision said.

As Ms Bates and Mr Arbuckle left, Ms Stephens made a comment to the effect: "well you better hope your till is not down today then".

Later that day, Ms Bates fired Ms Stephens.

Employment Authority member Helen Doyle said Ms Stephens was not given a chance to address the letters and offer an explanation.

At best it was "unclear" if Ms Stephens' behaviour warranted warning letters, she said.

Tension on the day Ms Stephens was fired arose because she thought she was being accused of theft.

The dismissal was unjustified because there was no process put in place before Ms Stephens was sacked, Ms Doyle said.

She awarded Ms Stephens $4080 in lost wages, $6400 in compensation for hurt and humiliation and $217.90 for loss of KiwiSaver contributions.

- APNZ

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