$12K fine for “belligerent” employer

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The Employment Relations Authority has handed a five figure fine to one Napier employer – as well as criticizing the company’s “stalling tactics” – after it was found to have unfairly docked an employee’s wages.

Café worker Natalie Olive Cornelius had been employed by HPG Private for almost a year when she finally raised concerns about the company docking 30 minutes of wages each day for breaks she was never permitted to take.

After her initial letter to company director Kamaljit Singh prompted no response, she then raised the issue verbally but Cornelius claimed her boss failed to address the matter adequately, instead reacting in a “rude and belligerent manner.”

Cornelius then told her employer that she felt she had no choice but to resign, to which he responded: "You'll have to do what you have to do." She followed through on her promise and went on the claim constructive dismissal before the Employment Relations Authority.

Interestingly, member of the authority Helen Loftus reprimanded Singh for failing to appear and slammed the company’s uncooperative approach.

“None of the respondents was present or represented at the investigation meeting. There was no advice of, or explanation for, the absence,” she wrote.

“The absence is not a surprise as I am of the view HPG has failed to address Ms Cornelius’ claims in good faith – indeed the respondents appear to have gone out of their way to stall and impede the process,” she added.

Ultimately, member of the authority Helen Loftus agreed with Cornelius and ordered HPG to pay the disgruntled former employee a total of $11,858 - $3,278 for lost wages lost as a result of the dismissal, $2,080 for falsely docked wages, $4,000 as compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings, and a further $2,500 as a contribution towards costs.

Loftus also strayed from standard protocol for awarding costs – which typically follows a daily tariff – one again citing HPG’s disobliging attitude and refusal to supple wage and time records.

“This investigation took approximately half a day. That would see an award of $1,750. That said I accept HPG’s less than helpful approach has resulted in additional work and this should be recognised,” she wrote in her decision.

The payment of almost $12,000 was ordered to be made to Cornelius by June 16.

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