A restaurant manager has been awarded $40,000 after her friendship with the establishment’s owner and award-winning chef was put through the blender, resulting in her resignation.
Janine Smith and Grant Kitchen had been mates for around a decade when he offered her a job at his new venture, Eatery 1487, based at Feilding Golf Club in 2022.
Kitchen, a previous winner of Manawatū Chef of the Year, dished up the opportunity not long after Smith had received an offer of a full-time position in Ohakune, paying $27.50 plus a percentage of the profits.
Smith had been looking forward to accepting the job in the Carrot Capital but when Kitchen garnished his restaurant manager’s position with an hourly pay rate of $28, it was too good to refuse.
However, it wasn’t long into Smith’s employment before the situation turned sour, the Employment Relations Authority detailed in a decision released last week.
Her numerous requests for an employment agreement went unanswered and over a 12-week period, her wages were paid sporadically.
Then, following a text exchange between the two in which Smith queried matters, she received a message from Kitchen stating: “Don’t give me your attitude. Do you want to work or are you just being a dick. Don’t f*****g text me when you’ve been drinking.”
Smith was shocked by his response and told the ERA she had no idea what had triggered it. Following the heated message, she resigned.
In response to her resignation text, Kitchen replied, “Give my jeep back tomorrow and f*** off.”
He later emailed Smith to advise she had to give a minimum of two weeks’ notice and was suspended until a meeting could be held to discuss the matter.
“This is considered serious misconduct and may result in the termination of your employment,” he told her.
“If you do not respond we will deem this abandonment of your employment.”
After turning to the ERA, Smith submitted the circumstances under which she resigned constituted a constructive dismissal.
She said she was not paid what she was due, she was not given an employment agreement and was subjected to abuse.
While Kitchen did not fully engage in the investigation process, he did submit to the ERA there was no real employment relationship.
He said he was simply paying Smith a “koha” to work and denied any agreement that she would be paid $28 per hour.
Smith sought compensation of $25,000 for injuries to feelings, hurt and humiliation, 12 weeks’ unpaid wages, holiday entitlements, lost wages for the time it took to find a new job and restitution after her income dropped during the 13 weeks following her dismissal.
An investigation meeting was held in Palmerston North last month.
ERA authority member Geoff O’Sullivan said in the decision that Kitchen had not provided any records, including wage and time sheets, despite them being requested. Smith’s evidence was therefore accepted in relation to unpaid wages.
Evidence that as a result of her personal grievance, Smith suffered significant hurt and humiliation and injury to feelings was accepted.
“This was not only as a result of her not being paid, and because of the angry exchange of texts, but also because of Mr Kitchen’s refusal to engage properly with Ms Smith in all matters over the final days of her employment.”
O’Sullivan found Kitchen had acknowledged that an employment relationship existed in his email to Smith regarding her resignation.
It was entirely foreseeable that she would leave her employment, O’Sullivan stated.
“She was not being properly paid, she had not been given an employment agreement, and when she queried matters, she received an abusive response from her employer.”
In ruling that she was constructively dismissed and that it was unjustified, the ERA handed down a number of penalties to Kitchen.
Smith was awarded $20,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and hurt feelings, $8952.78 for unpaid wages, $1075.20 for holiday pay, $3360 for three weeks’ lost wages while she found a new job and $5785.17 for the 13 weeks she received lower income.
The Feilding Golf Club told NZME Kitchen was overseas and couldn’t be contacted. General manager Lisa Herbert did respond to a request for comment.
Smith’s employment advocate Kirsten Westwood, Sacked Kiwi, also didn’t respond to a request for comment.