Receptionist Awarded $21K After Being Yelled at by Her Boss for Buying a Pumpkin

Woman ends up in therapy after unusual episode of workplace drama.

A motel receptionist in New Zealand who was yelled at by her boss for buying a pumpkin has been awarded $21,000 (about $12,000 U.S.) by the national labor authority. The New Zealand Herald reported on this unusual episode of workplace drama, which includes multiple incidents of yelling, claims and counterclaims of bad behavior, and the employee claiming she was driven into therapy. Read on to find out why the motel was ultimately fined for the employee's "injury to feelings." 

1
Pumpkin Purchase Leads to Public Display

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Michelle Smith claimed she was unjustly forced out of her job at Fitzherbert Regency Motor Lodge in Palmerston North in 2019. Smith started working as the motel's receptionist in March 2018. About six months later, she said the lodge's owner hollered at her after she bought a pumpkin, humiliating her in public.  "I purchased a pumpkin to be used in the preparation of a meal for a school group. It was one of the wider items purchased," Smith told the Employment Relations Authority. "But my boss was angered by the purchase and berated me in front of both staff and guests. The criticism extended to the purchases of breakfast items."

2
Verbal Bullying Continued, Employee Said

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Smith told the employment board she was bullied and abused in the workplace, the Herald reported. She also claimed that her working conditions created health and safety risks for workers and visitors. When her access to the motel's booking system was cut off, Smith cried. "I took the next few days off due to the stress I felt," she said.  When she returned to work, Smith said she was verbally bullied by another employee. "The abuse was so loud it woke the manager who was asleep in his room above," she said. "He came down and said the matter would be dealt with. He left and I felt under threat again. I chose to leave the premises, and when I did I was verbally attacked by the same worker again."  Smith ultimately resigned, then filed a grievance, claiming she was unjustly dismissed.

3
Employee "Difficult to Get Along With," Hotel Said

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The motel manager at the time, Kevin Davey, told the labor board Smith was difficult to get along with, the Herald reported. "She was crucial to FRML's operation and had skills and knowledge I didn't, but I think she was taking advantage of that." The motel claimed Smith quit on her own accord and wasn't fired.

4
"Dysfunctional Relationships" Motel's Fault, Board Decides

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But the labor board disagreed, deciding there was clear evidence that Smith had been harmed by the incidents. "Not only did she speak of these issues during the employment and the angst they caused but she spoke of ongoing stress, anxiety and humiliation with these affecting her to the extent she needed counseling," said ERA member Michael Loftus, the Herald reported. "FRML's view that Smith's conduct contributed to the dysfunctional relationships that resulted in her resignation fell well short of establishing it was such that remedies should be reduced."

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"Loss of Dignity and Injury to Feelings"

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Ultimately, the motel was ordered to pay their erstwhile employee $3,481 in lost wages and $18,000 as compensation for "humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings."   The motel's current owner said they do things differently now. "I took over the managing role four months ago," he said. "This will not happen again under my watch."

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more
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