A chef who abused her boss in emails and phone calls after he told her she was facing redundancy has been awarded almost $30,000 for a "grossly unjust" sacking.
Employment Relations Authority member James Crichton said Christchurch chef Natasha James' outburst in which she called the company's justification for making her redundant a "f****** ruse" was understandable.
He found charitable organisation La Famia failed in its "absolute obligation" to consult fairly with Ms James before making her redundant.
And an employment law expert warned yesterday the "high-end" award for compensation and lost wages was a wake-up call for employers to follow due process.
Ms James was employed as the kitchen manager and head chef for Wigram-based La Famia since July 2011 but in October that year was told her job would be merged and either she or the other employee would be made redundant.
The company said this was happening because it was in financial difficulty.
It claimed Ms James became "belligerent" and told her boss, managing director Harmon Wilfred, that the company was not struggling financially and that "the entire presentation was a f****** ruse".
She was suspended from work on full pay after that.
Mr Wilfred told The Star La Famia would appeal the decision in the Employment Court.
"We won't be accepting the decision that's for sure," he said.
Mr Wilfred said the appeal would be based on "errors of fact in the determination."
He declined to comment further.
Mr Wilfred told the ERA he had been harassed by Ms James and "peppered" with phone messages and emails to the point where he issued a trespass notice against her. She never returned to work and regarded herself as being unjustifiably dismissed.
Mr Crichton said he had no hesitation concluding that she was.
"La Famia, as employer, had an absolute obligation to enter into a robust and genuine process of consultation before determining that the position... was surplus to its requirements," he said.
"That simply did not happen and in consequence La Famia failed absolutely in their obligations to undertake a fair process in accordance with New Zealand's law."
Mr Crichton said he was persuaded that the predominant motive for La Famia getting rid of Ms James was not the redundancy but various concerns about her behaviour, including that she was disruptive and upset staff.
``The authority finds that the employer simply took advantage of the expiry notice period as a way of ending a relationship that had become unsatisfactory to it.''
While not wanting to condone Ms James' behaviour, Mr Crichton said it was ``hardly surprising that she flew off the handle and behaved as she did''.
``She saw the situation for what it was, a fait accompli.''
He awarded Ms James $5000 compensation, $4000 for her final pay cheque which she never received, and lost wages of $20,900 for the six months she was out of work following the dismissal.
Law expert Professor Paul Roth, of Otago University, said employers needed to be honest with their staff.
``They can't be sneaky,'' he said. ``They can't beat around the bush. If the problem was her behaviour, they should have addressed that.''
Prof Roth said the compensation - ``higher than most'' awards of its type - was a ``wake-up call for employers.''
Employers needed to follow the correct process in disciplining or dismissing workers as outlined in the Employment Relations Act.
``If an employee has a bad attitude they need to be told that and be told what they need to do to keep their job,'' he said.
``Employers should treat people the way they'd like to be treated themselves.''