A personal assistant who was told by her boss to “f*** off and don't come back” has been awarded $10,000 after the Employment Relations Authority ruled she was unjustifiably dismissed.
Angela Bennett claimed she was unjustifiably dismissed by her former employer Real Estate Out West Limited (REOW), after her boss told her to "get the f*** out" of the office and, on another occasion, told her to show her nipples, the Employment Relations Authority said.
REOW denied the claims, saying Bennett voluntarily resigned her employment.
Bennett began working at REOW after company director and long-term friend, David Sharma employed her to be his personal assistant.
However the working relationship quickly disintegrated with Sharma raising concerns in a meeting about Bennett's performance, in particular the amount of time she was accessing Facebook during office hours, “constantly being loud in the office”, gossiping, making mistakes with listings and being aggressive to other salespeople.
A few weeks later on June 13, Sharma received a phonecall from a tenant who told him Bennett had said they were paying too much for the rental property and another one from the aggrieved landlord. The next day Sharma is said to have told Bennett, in front of colleagues, to "shut your f...... mouth".
Bennett said later that day Sharma, who was under the influence of alcohol, told her to "show me your nipples". She claimed to the authority this was sexual harassment. Sharma told the ERA he did not recall making the comment but that it could relate to a long standing joke between them. Bennett agreed that comments of that nature had been made to each other in the past but argues that in the context of the workplace she was "disturbed" by the comment.
Later that evening Sharma found Bennett on Facebook once again and told her to "f*** off and don't come back," and "get the f*** out".
Bennett took the comments along with a voicemail message that night from Sharma telling her to return her company phone and then finding the phone had been disconnected to mean her employment was terminated. She emailed Sharma asking for a termination notice from him, to which he responded that her last working day was June 14.
Despite her dismissal falling within her probationary period the authority ruled that she was still allowed to bring a personal grievance for being unjustifiably dismissed because the employer was required to "act in a manner that is substantively and procedurally fair".
Authority member Eleanor Robinson determined that Ms Bennett was unjustifiably dismissed. She said that she found the words “F*** off and don't come back” “constitute a sending away on the part of the employer”.
"Having considered the evidence as presented, I find that Ms Bennett did not resign from her employment with REOW, but that she had been dismissed by Mr Sharma.
"I accept that this is a situation in which a social relationship, an employment relationship and alcohol were closely combined; however there remains onus on REOW to behave as a fair and reasonable employer towards Ms Bennett as its employee, and this it failed to do."
Robinson said that while Sharma had made it clear to Bennett that she wasn't to access Facebook during work time, Bennett did not receive a formal letter of warning following their discussion and there were "major flaws" in Sharma's procedure of informally warning an employee by swearing at them.
The sexual harassment claim was dismissed by Robinson who ruled that the pair's friendship had played a part in the comment and that it wasn't a "repeated behavior ... or that her refusing to comply had any effect on her continued employment".
Robinson ordered Sharma to pay $5107 for lost wages and another $5000 as compensation for Bennett's hurt and humiliation.
Sharma told The New Zealand Herald he intended to appeal the decision.