An Auckland manicurist who was video-monitored and ‘harassed’ by a Fijian acquaintance of the salon owner was fired without cause after eight days on the job.
Bliss Beauty NZ, owned by car mechanic Ronald Narayan, has been ordered to pay over $35,000 in penalties, interest and compensation after firing Sonja Potgieter.
Ronica Devi, who was in Fiji and familiar with the beauty industry, was helping out Narayan, including CCTV monitoring the salon, but she was not a controlling third party and was not part of the dismissal, noted the Labor Relations Authority.
Potgieter started working for Bliss Beauty in October 2020 with 14 years of experience in a beauty salon in South Africa. She, her husband and two young children had moved to New Zealand just over a year earlier.
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Potgieter did not receive his employment contract until almost two weeks after starting work, on October 21.
That evening, BBL owner and sole director Ronald Narayan told him in a text that:
“Due to the lack of work in the nail business
we close hope on the side of the nails
you understand thank you for
your serve [sic]”
Potgieter concluded that she was fired by the text and by a phone call from the salon manager. She received no notice of her dismissal and was only paid in lieu of notice two months later, when she received four weeks’ pay.
In a letter to Bliss Beauty about two weeks later, raising a personal grievance, Potgieter’s rep said, “Throughout her few weeks of employment, Ms. Potgieter reports that she has been continuously harassed by Late night text and email from Mr Narayan’s partner ‘Veronique’.
“Veronica would be residing overseas and monitoring staff by video camera all day. She then reportedly frequently contacted Ms Potgieter outside of working hours via text or email, haranguing her about how long it would take her to get her nails done and comparing her to other (cheaper) nail bars ) of the region.
The authority had previously found in June that Devi was a controlling third party, but ERA member Alastair Dumbleton said in the ruling dated October 4 that she was not, although the show manager said that she considered Devi her boss.
“Ms. Devi maintained that there was no contract or arrangement between her and Mr. Narayan or BBL, and that she had merely assisted him as a friend and former employer when she contacted Ms. Potgieter about his work,” Dumbleton said.
“Communications were daily but remotely, by text message, as Ms. Devi resided in Fiji. Ms Devi was also able to watch Ms Potgieter work in the living room, through CCTV installed for security purposes.
Narayan told ERA that he had just suspended Potgieter and that his job did not end until November when he received the personal grievance letter. However, ERA rejected this argument.
The ERA also rejected Naryan’s argument that Potgieter was fired after a 90-day trial.
Potgieter had been devastated by the abrupt layoff from her first job in New Zealand, Dumbleton said.
“Ms Potgieter was a vulnerable worker as a recent immigrant seeking her first job in New Zealand and willing to work at the lowest legal rate of minimum wage.”
Bliss Beauty was ordered to pay Potgieter $23,500 in compensation, repay her lost salary of $4,940, and pay interest on that salary.
Bliss Beauty was also fined $7,000 for failing to provide a written employment contract. Of this sum, $2,000 was to go to the Crown and $5,000 to Potgieter.
No order was given against Narayan.