Worker wins $34K pay-out despite questionable claims

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A woman sacked for allegedly claiming reimbursements to which she was not entitled has been awarded over $34,000 by the Employment Relations Authority.

The ERA found that Propellor Property Investments, based in Auckland, had unjustifiably dismissed Cherie Elsegood.

The company is run by Elsegood’s cousin, Nikki Connors.

Propellor claimed that Elsegood was given a generous remuneration package for her administrative job – a $70,000-a-year salary, a VW car and free accommodations for two years. She was also able to claim expenses for certain business items.

From June to December 2016 however Elsegood failed to submit claims, and when she did, the receipts included items – petrol, mobile phone, food and liquor – she was not entitled to claim for, the ERA said.

According to Connors, she was upset by Elsegood’s fraudulent expense claims when the company had treated her so well. She initially tried to contact the latter for an explanation, but failed.

Eventually she sent an emotive text to her cousin: "I think by your silence and unwillingness to work through this you have now made a decision that will define the rest of your life. There is no point coming back to work and if I was you I would find somewhere else to live immediately.”

But Elsegood said she had not been afforded the opportunity to discuss the matter. She took Connors’ message to mean she was sacked, and was shocked and humiliated by the accusations.

The ERA agreed with Elsegood that Connors’ text message meant she was being dismissed and told to move out of the apartment. This method, the agency said, was unjustified.

"These are serious allegations and should have been discussed with Ms Elsegood so that
she was able to have her side of the story heard and considered by Propellor," the ERA said.

Elsegood claimed she became depressed following the dismissal. She suffered a painful bout of shingles, lost weight and made regular visits to the doctor.

She was awarded $15,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings, $14,583 in lost wages, $1679 in agreed unpaid expenses and $3000 for a bonus that was owed to her.


Related stories:
Should HR be worried about expense fraud?
Indebted employee wins $10K dismissal claim
 

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