Rebecca Quilliam

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

Pregnant cafe worker awarded $13k

A company which fired a worker after she had returned from maternity leave says there was a "misunderstanding" in its obligations to the woman.

Louise Lock was constructively dismissed from The Farmhouse Cafe in Warkworth, north of Auckland, last September after returning to work from maternity leave and being offered only intermittent shifts, rather than 35 to 40 hours worth of work that she was doing before having her baby.

The Employment Relations Authority ordered the company to pay Ms Lock more than $13,000 in lost wages and compensation.

The cafe was also criticised for cutting Ms Lock's pay by 50c per hour while she was pregnant because she could not do heavy kitchen work and was moved to a different work area.

"Although there is no parental leave complaint and/or sex discrimination claim before the authority I consider The Farmhouse Cafe's actions amounted to an unlawful unilateral reduction of pay arising solely from Ms Lock's pregnancy," authority member Rachel Larmer said.

Ms Lock gave the company notice of her intention to take parental leave but the company failed to provide her with the proper forms, which resulted in problems when she tried to return to work, Ms Larmer said.

When Ms Lock attempted to come back to work in September, her employer John Ren said he had wanted to give her a warning before she left because of her "moods" due to pregnancy - but would not elaborate on that statement, Ms Larmer said.

He offered her only a half shift every now and then to work, which resulted in difficulties in childcare.

"[The company] did not respond to her concerns that its actions were causing her childcare difficulties, it criticised her performance whenever she pressed to return to her normal job and it failed to provide details of its concerns about her performance when asked to do so."

She left the job because she felt it could not offer her the work.

See the full ERA decision here:


Today, Mr Ren's son, Daniel Ren said there was a misunderstanding and company did not know they were obliged to provide Ms Lock with specific maternity forms.

He said the Ms Lock wanted to return to work during a quiet period and they could not offer her more hours until later in the year.

"We gave her as many hours as we could."

Mr Ren said the cafe's policy was to not pay front of house staff as much as kitchen staff because the work was not as skilled. His father did not realise that Ms Lock's pay could not be arbitrarily changed, because her contract had her wage set at $15 per hour, he said.

"We didn't think we were doing anything wrong."

However, he accepted they did not give Ms Lock the correct forms and they would not be appealing against the decision, but he said they did not realise the forms existed.

"We got blamed for something we did not know."

Ms Lock said her lawyer had advised her not to comment until after the appeal period.

- APNZ

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