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Beauty therapist’s dismissal linked to ‘potential anxiety’ over new job

A beauty therapy business which specialises in tanning admits the way it sacked a young worker was wrong. Photo / 123RF A...

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A beauty therapy business which specialises in tanning admits the way it sacked a young worker was wrong. Photo / 123RF

A young beauty therapist “callously dismissed” from her new job after sharing her worries with her manager took her fight to court and won.

The Employment Relations Authority found the impact of the job loss on Laura Smith had been significant, and it had taken several months before she regained a sense of self-belief.

“The decision to dismiss, in context, was a disproportionate response to Ms Smith reaching out for assistance and support,” ERA member David Beck said, in awarding compensation of $12,000 and just over $6000 in lost wages.

The company, Sun Kissed Tan, has admitted to Open Justice it was wrong, and hoped to become a better employer as a result.

Smith had been training for a New Zealand Certificate in Beauty Therapy when she answered an advertisement in October 2020 from a new salon wanting experienced beauticians.

She was taken on as a beauty therapist for Sun Kissed Tan in the firm’s newly opened Nelson salon from December 7 that year, then dismissed a few weeks later on January 20.

The ERA concluded that the business discovered Smith was possibly suffering anxiety, triggered by the challenges of a new role, and moved to dismiss her.

Smith told the ERA that she made it clear in an interview with the company’s managing director and shareholder Matthew Docherty, that she had no history of working in a beauty salon, because she was still training.

But Docherty said she seemed like the “right fit” and offered what was described as “permanent full-time” work Tuesday to Saturday with “around 37 hours per week” set by a roster.

The job came with an hourly rate of $20 with a weekly 20 per cent commission if she met a specified target.

Smith was asked to go to Christchurch to do a “skills evaluation” test before being presented with an employment agreement.

A young beauty therapist "callously dismissed" after sharing her concerns with her manager took several months to regain a sense of self-belief. Photo / 123RF
A young beauty therapist “callously dismissed” after sharing her concerns with her manager took several months to regain a sense of self-belief. Photo / 123RF

She was concerned that the hours of work were not consistent with how Docherty portrayed the job as full-time.

She eventually signed the contract, but without getting legal advice.

The salon opened later than when she had been contracted to start work, so she was instead engaged in cleaning and preparation work.

From then on, Smith had several changes to her rostered hours – sometimes at short notice, as salon customer needs fluctuated. It resulted in reduced pay and financial hardship.

In the lead-up to her dismissal, witnesses for the company described Smith as “struggling to establish a positive relationship with the Nelson salon manager”, with whom she had an increasingly tense relationship, compounded by the roster issues which left her feeling “constantly anxious”.

Matters came to a head when Smith took two days’ sick leave, and went to her doctor who provided a one-month medical certificate.

Shortly after a discussion with her about the GP’s advice, the salon manager phoned the area manager, who indicated she would speak to Smith, as she was worried about her working in a distressed state.

Smith went to work on January 20, hopeful there would be change but at 3pm that day she was called to a meeting with her manager and told she had no future at Sun Kissed Tan [SKT].

She was being dismissed immediately under the 90-day trial period with seven days’ pay in lieu of notice.

Smith raised a personal grievance of unjustified dismissal and unjustified disadvantage.

The ERA member said it was apparent Smith was struggling in the role, which given her inexperience was unsurprising.

He concluded that one of the predominant reasons for the dismissal was that SKT found out Smith was “potentially suffering anxiety” and they quickly moved to end her employment.

“As a fair and reasonable employer, if SKT had performance concerns about Ms Smith they should have properly put Ms Smith on notice about these concerns and advised how they could be addressed, including offering necessary and appropriate training and support,” Beck said.

“This was not done.”

He found Smith was unjustifiably dismissed.

“The manner of the dismissal was pre-determined and abrupt with no practical opportunity for Ms Smith to obtain representation, have any input into the decision or address the decision-maker (Mr Docherty).”

Docherty told Open Justice the company had always tried to align itself correctly with employment law.

“In this instance the authority has identified some areas where we got it wrong, specifically around the 90-day trial.

“We respect the authority’s findings, which will help us become a better employer moving forward.”

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