How argument over $5 fee cost Kiwi lodge $12,000

AN argument over a $5 fee has cost a Wellington motor lodge almost $12,000 and censure for wrongful dismissal.

The Employment Relations Authority has found Marina Motor Lodge in Porirua was unjustified in dismissing receptionist Christine Campbell following the dispute in May last year.

The authority heard how the argument between Ms Campbell and motel owner Carol Fearon was sparked by a disagreement over a newly introduced $5 service fee.

The fee was to be charged to customers who wanted food delivered from a local restaurant. It was to be paid to the motel worker who picked up the food from the restaurant if they used their own car.

On May 22 last year, Ms Campbell took restaurant orders from two separate customers who worked for the same company.

It was the first time she had implemented the fee, so she used her initiative to charge only $5, or $2.50 per customer, because she made only one trip to collect the meals.

Almost a week later, Ms Fearon approached Ms Campbell about the transaction and said she had no right to charge a lesser fee.

The argument became heated, with neither party prepared to back down.

Ms Campbell threatened to leave, handing Ms Fearon the keys and attempting to pay her $5 for the undercharging.

Ms Fearon responded that she did not want the money but she did want Ms Campbell to leave, and if she didn't leave straight away, Ms Fearon would call the police.

Ms Campbell became contrary and said "go on then" - which Ms Fearon did.

Police spoke on the phone to Ms Campbell, who told them she was on her way out. Police did not attend.

Ms Fearon later organised a disciplinary meeting at which she raised the undercharging and the argument with Ms Campbell.

She also put forward allegations Ms Campbell had altered the motels' booking and payment sheets, leading to $92 in cash being unaccounted for.

At the end of the meeting, Ms Fearon dismissed Ms Campbell by handing her a letter she had prepared earlier.

Employment Relations Authority member Greg Wood found Ms Campbell's dismissal was unjustified, noting her decision on the fee was not blameworthy and she was not given reasonable opportunity to respond to the paperwork allegations.

He said it was not dignified for either party to have got into an argument, but Ms Fearon was more to blame as the instigator of the conversation, particularly because she called the police, which was not necessary.

However, he reduced compensation to Ms Campbell for her own contribution to the "unpleasant" incident, noting her "slightly sarcastic encouragement" to Ms Fearon to ring police.

"Clearly Ms Fearon and Ms Campbell were upset, but neither did themselves any credit over this incident," Mr Wood said.

He ordered the company pay Ms Campbell almost $12,000, including $6656 in lost wages, $2800 in compensation and $2500 in costs.


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