NZ worker awarded $9K for a day's work

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A cafe worker has been awarded $9,000 by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) after being told the shift she worked was an unpaid trial.

Helen Mawhinney claimed she was constructively dismissed after working eight hours at Sfizio Limited’s Wadestown Kitchen on August 4, 2017.

Mawhinney went to the ERA, arguing that she worked a full shift from 8am to 4pm, where she completed a range of tasks.

However, Sfizio denied her allegations, claiming she had agreed to undertake an unpaid competency assessment over part of the day in the hope of obtaining a position.

Moreover, Mawhinney alleges she asked the director Kathy Parfitt whether she should give her bank account number so she could be paid for the day, only for Parfitt to reply: “Oh, did Curtis Gregorash (the other director) not tell you? This was an unpaid trial.”

Mawhinney then allegedly informed Parfitt she had incurred childcare and travel costs to work at the cafe.

That evening, Parfitt sent Mawhinney a text message apologising for any “confusion” about the day being an unpaid trial and was offered a job working at Wadestown.

However, Mawhinney replied by text message four days later to decline the job and demanded she be paid for her completed shift.

She also told Sfizio they had till the end of the week to pay her or she would pursue mediation.

Gregorash replied, saying they don’t pay for trial days, claiming those on trial are not a “productive member of the team and you can leave whenever you like. It is not a day of work.”

Mawhinney told the ERA that at the end of the interview Parfitt told her she was “exactly what we are looking for” and that they could “give you 30 hours per week but the work might be stretched between the two cafes.”

Michele Ryan, a member of the ERA, concluded the evidence given by Mawhinney was stronger, and was not convinced that those matters surrounding the August 4 shift were conveyed to Mawhinney by Sfizio.

Moreover, Ryan said that the line between Mawhinney participating in a competency assessment and having her engage in work was crossed.

She added that the work performed by Mawhinney contributed to the business and provided it with an economic benefit.

She was awarded $7000 compensation, $119 in wages for the day and $1890 in lieu of four weeks notice because she was considered an employee at the end of the interview.

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