"Pestering" boss pushed Auckland worker to quit

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The pestering behaviour of one Pukekohe employer did in fact push a worker to resign – that’s the decision an arbitrator from the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) made last month.

Former retail manager Kelli Balani worked at The Clearance Shed in south Auckland for a year before she quit in September 2014 – six months later, she filed an application with the ERA claiming her resignation had actually been constructive dismissal because she’s been sexually harassed and unjustifiably disadvantaged in her employment.

Balani told the ERA that hugs from her employers had always been par for the course while working at large retailer but said they became uncomfortable when one of her bosses, Craig Ireland, began to communicate with her outside of working hours.

Company director Ireland sent Balani text messages, called her cell phone, and organized meetings outside of work from May onwards – she decided something was “very wrong” with Ireland’s behaviour after discovering he had kept the meetings secret from his business partner.

Acting on advice from her psychologist, Balani reduced and restricted her communication with Ireland and began extending her hand for a handshake, rather than accepting hugs.

She explained the hugs made her “uncomfortable,” but boss Irealand countered that the pair had “chemistry.” A month later, she resigned.

Member of the authority, Robin Arthur disagreed that Ireland's actions constituted sexual harassment but agreed that Balani had been unjustifiably disadvantaged in her position by being “pestered” outside of work hours.

Arthur addud that Ireland’s behaviour had "seriously damaged the trust and confidence" Balani was entitled to as an employee.

Balani was awarded $6,000 compensation from Ireland and $6,000 compensation from the company – she will also be paid $7,000 in lost wages and given a contribution of $1,000 towards her medical expenses for anxiety.

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