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Significant Employment Case A Heads-Up for Employers

30 April 2014

Significant Employment Case A Heads-Up for Employers

An award of over $90,000 by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has substantial implications for businesses where workers live on site.

Nelson man Keith Hill has just won his case for unjustifiable dismissal and unpaid wages in the ERA. He lived and worked on the premises of Riverview Holiday Park and Café in Murchison.

Keith Hill was employed as the Manager for two years until February 2013. An award of $69,561.25 has been made to Mr Hill for unpaid wages, and a total of $22,120.00 in compensation for hurt and humiliation and wages lost since his dismissal.

Keith Hill’s lawyer, Nick Mason of Pitt & Moore, says the ERA judgement is significant because it is one of first cases in the hospitality sector to clarify the law around living and working on site.

“While the circumstances in this case are relatively unusual, it highlights that employers need to be aware of how the term 'work' is actually interpreted” says Nick Mason. “The really helpful thing for employers is that this decision goes a long way to clarifying the law with respect to “sleepover” cases, which has been unsettled since the Dickson v Idea Services case was decided by the Employment Court.

While Keith Hill was employed at Riverview he was unable to leave the premises and during the peak season was effectively on duty for 15 hours a day. He was required to be there to check the camp, deal with urgent matters and respond to customers arriving at any time. In the two years he worked there he took only two weeks holiday. In January 2013 he was dismissed without any process or being given any justifiable reason.

The ERA judgement states that Mr Hill “worked long days in the peak season” and that he “had constraints on his evenings and nights during the peak season almost every night and had to remain alert, even when asleep, to any work that needed to be done”, and concluded that Mr Hill was entitled to be paid at not less than the minimum wage for 15 hours per day during the peak season. The ERA also found that there was a “complete lack of procedural fairness”, and “not one shred of evidence of any substantive justification” with respect to many aspects of Mr Hill’s unjustifiable dismissal.

Nick Mason says the employer, Peter Shand, neglected to pay Mr Hill any wages for several months and then refused to reimburse Mr Hill for the unpaid wages following the dismissal.

“This judgement will clarify the issues around living and working on a business premises and it’s a timely reminder that employers must carefully consider and administer job requirements – particularly hours worked and the tasks employees are required to undertake,” says Nick Mason.


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