A worker who took urgent leave for family matters in China has been awarded more than $18,000 after she was dismissed on her return.
Grocery store worker Meiying Fan's mother died when she was in China in September last year.
Her employer Ling Xie sent her condolences and told her to stay as long as she needed to.
Ling Xie owns Victorxie Trading NZ Limited (VTL) which operates two grocery stores. Meiying Fan worked in customer service at the Newmarket store.
The Employment Relations Authority heard Fan returned New Zealand shortly after her mother's funeral and on her return to work was told, without consultation, her hours would be reduced to part-time.
Fan sent Xie a message saying she wanted to return to her full-time hours. When she returned for her shift on October 12 she was told she should leave the premises.
Over the following 10 days Xie made no contact with Fan about her expected working hours. Fan viewed being sent away and the lack of contact as an unjustified dismissal.
But Xie told the ERA she had reduced Fan's hours because of concerns about her wellbeing.
Xie said Fan's daughter-in-law was due to have a baby in December and Xie anticipated Fan would want to spend time with her new grandchild.
The ERA heard that Xie had also questioned the suitability of the job for someone of Fan's
age. Fan was 65 years old at that time.
In the following weeks, Xie removed Fan from a WeChat message group she had set up for VTL staff.
Fan sought legal advice and in October her lawyer wrote to VTL raising a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal.
The letter said Fan considered her employment had been terminated because she had received no pay since September 30.
Fan felt she was "cast aside so suddenly and rudely" and "got rid of" because of her age.
The letter sought an apology, three months' lost wages and distress compensation of $25,000.
Xie did not respond to the lawyer's letter but sent a lengthy WeChat message
directly to Fan.
Xie apologised and asked to negotiate. She said Fan "may need two or three days" to visit her daughter-in-law and, when born, the new baby.
Second, Xie said Christmas was a busy time and she was worried Fan could not "physically handle the heavy workload".
Xie also referred to financial difficulties for the store and wanting to give equal working time to Fan and a new employee in the store.
The ERA found there was no lawful basis for assuming Fan would or should reduce her hours because of the impending birth of a grandchild.
Fan's closing submissions described Xie as "imposing her own cultural practices" on her.
There was also no evidence that Fan had any physical difficulty with the lifting and carrying required in her work.
Xie's evidence at the investigation meeting also confirmed there was no operational need to split Fan's working hours with another new employee.
The ERA found Fan had been unjustifiably dismissed she was awarded lost wages on her previous full-time hours.
Fan's gross weekly wage in the full-time role was $1062 for 60 hours a week, worked over six days, at the rate of $17.70 an hour.
She got a new job, working 37 hours a week, from October 28, 2019 and earning $654.90 a week.
She was awarded $7257 compensation mitigated by her new work.
The ERA agreed Fan took great pride in the financial independence she got from her work.
"She felt keenly the loss of a job for reasons which related to mistaken perceptions about her family responsibilities and the effect of age on her capability as a worker."
The ERA commented Fan was a resilient person who, although upset by how she was treated on her return from China, was able to recover and move on with her life.
She was awarded $11,000 for hurt and humiliation.