A bakery worker who claimed she was bullied and made to do most of the unpleasant work, such as chopping onions, was justifiably dismissed, the Employment Relations Authority says.
Rhonda Connolly worked for Joshua and Nathalie Brinkman in their Wellsford bakery but it was "not an employment relationship made in heaven", authority member James Crichton said in his ruling, released today.
Ms Connolly started working part-time for the Brinkmans in 2007, and became full-time in 2008. All was apparently well until mid-2011, when Ms Connolly wrote the Brinkmans a letter of complaint, sparked by her seeking time off to go to the doctor for sinus pain.
She went to the doctor, was given antibiotics and told to take time off so the drugs could work.
She said in her letter she was given the "cold shoulder" when she returned to work after two days' sick leave.
She also claimed she "was made to do the lion's share of the unpleasant tasks in the workplace, such as peeling and chopping onions and doing the cleaning". It was the onion work which had caused her sinus problems.
Ms Connolly told the authority the atmosphere in the shop changed from the moment she sent the letter.
The Brinkmans responded with a warning letter, in which they addressed each of the points Ms Connolly raised in her letter and also said such things as "you just don't listen".
It also said: "You will have to start changing your attitude towards all of us ... try working together more because I won't help you if you won't help me."
The Brinkmans urged Ms Connolly to show initiative, not ignore customers and to show more respect for them as "we are not your colleagues but your bosses".
Ms Connolly believed the warning letter was sent in retaliation to her letter but the Brinkmans said it was already being drafted when they received Ms Connolly's.
The Brinkmans gave Ms Connolly a second written warning about three weeks later, in which they said working with her was stressful for everyone and gave her two weeks to improve.
"I personally feel attacked and very uncomfortable around you," it said.
"I cannot talk to you without being yelled at. This has to stop immediately or your employment is going to be cancelled."
Ms Connolly responded with a "letter of reply" in which she went over the history of the written exchanges between the parties and said the letters are too general and, therefore, could not be acted upon. She also said the warnings were unfair because the Brinkmans had not had a meeting with her to discuss matters.
Mr Brinkman gave her a letter of termination two weeks later, in which he said her attitude was a problem and she needed to work on it for future employment elsewhere.
"We do not enjoy working in our own bakery any more, that is not correct is it? Even customers can feel the different tension," it said.
Mr Crichton said the employment relationship exhibited exasperation on both sides, which made it difficult for them to try to resolve the problems.
"This was not an employment relationship made in heaven," he said.
"Each blames the other for the failure to meet and resolve matters."
However, small business owners such as the Brinkmans were entitled to enjoy their business, he said.
The Brinkmans had tried to resolve the issues but the "sudden and, perhaps, unexpected deterioration" in the relationship had not made that possible.
Mr Crichton found Ms Connolly's dismissal was justified, and that she had failed to prove she was bullied by the Brinkmans.
Neither party could be contacted for comment.