Rangiora butchery learns costly lesson in unjust dismissal

Published 11 July 2023 | 2 min read

Butchery ordered to pay $20,000 to former worker

We often hear stories of workplace disputes and conflicts, but few tales strike a chord as deeply as the recent case involving The Butcher's Mistress, a local butchery in Rangiora. The owners of this establishment have been ordered to pay an exorbitant sum of almost $20,000 to a former employee, Chloe Catanach-Hessell, who was unjustifiably dismissed less than two months into her job. This cautionary tale serves as a stark reminder for small-to-medium New Zealand business owners and decision-makers about the importance of fair employment practices and contracts.

Chloe Catanach-Hessell joined The Butcher's Mistress as a shop assistant on August 30, 2021. Unfortunately, her employment was abruptly terminated on October 8, allegedly due to concerns about her performance. However, Catanach-Hessell argued that her dismissal was unjustified, citing the lack of clarity in her employment contract regarding the trial period.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) investigated the matter in October 2022, considering witness statements from both parties involved. While Catanach-Hessell made allegations about the conduct of Jonathan Blease, a co-owner of the butchery, ERA member Peter van Keulen found her evidence to be unsubstantiated. On the contrary, van Keulen regarded Blease as a considerate person whose treatment of staff was appropriate. This finding cast doubt on the legitimacy of Catanach-Hessell's claims.

Is your employment contract putting your business in jeopardy?

The crux of the issue revolved around the employment contract and its handling. Blease utilised an online agreement builder to generate the contract, including a trial provision with a 90-day period and a two-week notice period. Unfortunately, Blease did not thoroughly review the document before presenting it to Catanach-Hessell, who was unable to print it herself. Although she received the employment agreement with the trial period mentioned, there was no specific timeframe indicated. Consequently, she assumed there was no trial period, based on what she believed she had been told during the interview. Neither Blease nor Deborah Leggett, another co-owner, checked the contract before its signing.

It was only when Catanach-Hessell contested the validity of the trial provision that the absence of the 90-day period came to light. Van Keulen acknowledged that Catanach-Hessell had been informed during the interview about the presence of a trial provision in her employment agreement. Yet, due to the failure to record the time frame, he deemed the trial provision invalid, ultimately leading to the conclusion that her dismissal was unjustified.

The Employment Relations Authority decision, published on June 29, placed the Butcher's Mistress in a precarious position. While the owners may view this outcome as harsh, it serves as a vital lesson for all businesses. Trial provisions, though granting considerable power to employers, must adhere to the Employment Relations Act and be implemented accurately. Any oversight or ambiguity can lead to costly repercussions.

The Butcher's Mistress has been ordered to pay compensation of $12,000 to Chloe Catanach-Hessell for her unjust dismissal. Additionally, they must reimburse her $7,127.81, covering the remuneration she lost during her time of unemployment.

Learning from the Rangiora butchery's mistakes

This cautionary tale highlights the importance of clear and accurate employment contracts, particularly regarding trial periods. To avoid finding themselves in a similar predicament, businesses must take the time to review and revise their contracts, ensuring compliance with legal requirements.

In the pursuit of fostering a fair and just work environment, it is crucial for employers to exercise their power responsibly. By prioritising transparency, clarity, and adherence to employment laws, businesses can avoid costly legal battles and maintain harmonious relationships with their employees. The Butcher's Mistress' unfortunate experience should serve as a catalyst for positive change, prompting business owners to reevaluate their practices and prioritise compliance with employment regulations.

References: "The Butcher's Mistress ordered to pay $20,000 to former worker." The Press NZ, June 29, 2023. View article here.

Back to Articles