No flowers, but $14K payout after florists fight

The owner of a Christchurch flower shop has been ordered to pay a former staffer $14,482 for unjustified dismissal – a lot less than she sought after alleged bullying incidents.

Shirley Brunning fell out with her Riccarton Florist colleague Leeanne Moke, the Employment Relations Authority heard.

In his decision, ERA member Peter van Keulen noted that although the pair had limited interaction – largely related to shift changeovers – tensions between the two escalated over a period of 10 months.

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The spat culminated in July 2019, whenMoke called out to Brunning as she was leaving work and said “what have you got in your bags”, implying that Brunning had
stolen something from work.

Moke also said to Brunning, “See ya in court”.

Brunning complained by text message to the shop’s owner, Carolyn Rushton, alleging bullying and harassment and asking for an investigation.

Instead, the Riccarton Florist owner issued Brunning with two warnings the same month – relating to breaks and not following instructions – before dismissing here. Brunning found work four weeks later.

The ERA’s van Keulen found that Rushton did investigate Brunning’s complaint and act on it. The owner told Moke and told her to stop interacting with Brunning and simply focus on her work.

Neither did he accept the allegations of bullying.

Van Keulen noted a number of incidents, including Moke’s allegation that Brunning told someone she was not a florist, and a “minor confrontation” between the pair about a flower display.

But “the two employees with both employees being to blame for that but it did not, in my view, amount to bullying and harassment by either employee,” he said in his decision.

However, van Keulen did uphold Brunning’s claim of unjustified dismissal.

Following two written warnings, Rushton organised a meeting with Brunning. When the employee said here representative had been unable to attend, Rushton fired Brunning on the spot. Van Keulen said Brunning should have been given a proper opportunity to respond to her written warnings.

Brunning had sought $23,000.

Van Keulen awarded her a nominal $20,000, but reduced the amount that Rushton had to pay by 35 per cent to $14,482 ($13,000 for humiliation and the remainder for lost wages) because Brunning was partially to blame.

“Brunning did act in a culpable manner which contributed to her grievance,” the ERA member wrote in his decision.

“This includes her poor working relationship with Ms Moke โ€“ whilst this did not amount to bullying and harassment, it was below an acceptable standard in the workplace.

“Ms Brunning’s behaviour also includes her abrupt and confrontational manner and attitude toward Ms Rushton, including defying direct instructions about taking breaks and inappropriate communication.”

Costs were reserved

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