A woman who worked for her husband for 13 years and was fired when the relationship broke down has been awarded more than $70,000 in holiday pay and compensation.

Nicola McKay worked for the South Island newspaper the Wanaka Sun and the Wanaka Pharmacy from 2005 to 2018.

She told the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) she was unjustifiably dismissed when her marriage to local businessman Aaron Heath ended.

Heath, the sole director and shareholder of both companies, told the ERA his former wife was not an employee because of the matrimonial relationship at the time.


He said there was no formal legal employment relationship with McKay, she was not an employee so she couldn't have been unjustifiably dismissed or entitled to holiday pay.

But the ERA found Nicola McKay was employed - and not just paid an allowance as her former husband claimed.

It found she was unjustifiably dismissed and was owed $57,334.24 for holiday pay accrued over 13 years.

McKay was also awarded $13,000 for compensation after it was found she was unjustifiably dismissed.

McKay provided evidence by way of payslips and a paid parental leave application that the ERA said showed she was an employee.

The pair started their relationship in early 2005 when McKay was working in real estate and Heath owned the Wanaka Pharmacy and local paper the Wanaka Sun.

Heath said he provided McKay with an allowance from his shareholding account and the use of a car owned by Wanaka Pharmacy for her real estate work.

The shareholder account shows payments of $2500 for four months from May to September 2005.


But from October, McKay was paid by way of a salary from the Wanaka Pharmacy.

The salary payments continued until the relationship ended in September 2018 at
which time McKay was receiving $2,416.23 per fortnight.

McKay was also provided with the use of a company vehicle and a fuel card.

When the relationship first started McKay worked in the pharmacy as an assistant. When the couple married in 2007 she became more involved in both companies.

Heath's lawyer Kieren Tohill told the ERA there was no record of hours kept and there was no employment agreement.

McKay, however, produced a paid parental leave application for an employee that Heath
had signed on March 3, 2012.

The couple have three children.

In the employer's declaration for paid parental leave, Heath declared and signed that McKay "had been employed at that time for six years and five months and had worked an average of 40 hours per week".

The ERA was provided evidence of work McKay did for the two companies in her 13 years.

This included answering all incoming general phone calls to the Wanaka Sun that were directed to her mobile phone on a 24-hour, seven-day basis.

Other tasks included:

• Dealing with all social media and emails.
• Liaising with the editor of Wanaka Sun.
• Creation of spreadsheet to manage Wanaka Sun advertising bookings.
• Coordinating community events.
• Delivering Wanaka Sun each week to businesses.
• Uploading and editing online editions of the Wanaka Sun each week.
• Managing all social media for the Wanaka Sun.
• Human resources manager for both companies and dealing with grievances.
• Photography for Wanaka Sun.

Heath accepted his former wife had looked after communication for the Wanaka Sun but said it was "done at her volition and leisure and often from home or while she was out and about".

He said if she was an employee she would not have been expected to answer calls 24 hours, seven days a week, as that would have been unreasonable.

Heath said McKay was not employed as a human resource person but said she was involved in recruitment, did the rosters, and some grievance work.

He said the payroll work McKay undertook "was in her own time and usually from a cafe".

Heath said McKay enjoyed photography and would provide the photos to the Wanaka Sun for a photo library and also to television on occasions for the weather segment of the news.

He described the work as "incidental to her day-to-day life" and that she would "take photos driving around for other reasons".

McKay told the ERA that during her employment there had been four overseas family trips but said she worked while on leave and she did not regard them as holidays.

Heath in his evidence referred to holidays in Rarotonga, Australia, Fiji, and a short break in Te Anau over the years since 2005.

Heath accepted that they had both worked while on holiday.

After the couple separated in 2018, McKay went to the pharmacy to pay the wages and was told Heath was taking over that role.

The next day she received written communication from Kieran Tohill Law Limited that she was no longer working for Wanaka Sun and Wanaka Pharmacy.

McKay said the dismissal was the low point in her life and she struggled.

She felt the dismissal was done "with a view to hurt her" and that no other employees had been dealt with as she had.

She said she felt isolated and impact on her mental health. She told the ERA she loved her job and still misses it a considerable period of time later.

The ERA accepted that the job was very important to McKay and that "its loss in a manner without her input and any process was therefore significant".

The ERA found McKay was employed and was therefore unjustifiably dismissed. It awarded her $13,000 in compensation.

McKay claimed $62,166.70 was owing for holiday pay.

The ERA found there was evidence of some overseas and local trips with no significant disagreement about these having occurred.

The ERA deducted four weeks' salary - $4832.46 - from the claim for holidays taken and awarded her $57,334.24.