Receptionist Received $21,000 After Being Yelled at by Her Boss

A New Zealand motel receptionist who was yelled at by her boss for buying a pumpkin has been awarded $21,000 (about US$12,000) by the National Employment Agency. That New Zealand Herald reported about this unusual episode of workplace drama that includes multiple incidents of yelling, claims and counter-claims about misbehavior, and the employee’s claim that she was pushed into therapy. Read on to find out why the motel was ultimately fined for the clerk’s “violation of sentiment.”


Michelle Smith claimed she was unfairly forced from her job at Fitzherbert Regency Motor Lodge in Palmerston North in 2019. Smith began working as the motel’s receptionist in March 2018. About six months later, she said the lodge owner yelled at her after she bought a pumpkin and humiliated her in public. “I bought a pumpkin to use in preparing a meal for a school group. It was one of the wider items bought,” Smith told the Industrial Relations Authority. “But my boss was upset with the purchase and berated me in front of employees and guests. The criticism also extended to the purchase of breakfast items.”


Smith told the Department of Labor that she had been bullied and abused at work herald reported. She also claimed that her working conditions posed health and safety risks for workers and visitors. When her access to the motel’s booking system was interrupted, Smith cried. “I took the next few days off due to the stress I was feeling,” she said. When she returned to work, Smith said she was verbally bullied by another employee. “The verbal abuse was so loud it woke up the manager who was sleeping in his room upstairs,” she said. “He came down and said the matter would be settled. He left and I felt threatened again. Smith eventually resigned, then filed a complaint, claiming she was wrongly fired.

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Then-motel manager Kevin Davey told the Labor Department that Smith was difficult to get along with herald reported. “She was critical to running FRML and had skills and knowledge that I didn’t have, but I think she took advantage of that.” The motel claimed Smith resigned of his own volition and was not fired.

Close-up of the lawyer at his desk

But the Department of Labor disagreed, ruling that there was clear evidence Smith had been harmed by the incidents. “Not only did she speak about these issues during employment and the anxiety they caused, but she also spoke of the ongoing stress, anxiety and humiliation that affected her to the extent that she needed counseling,” said ERA member Michael Loftus, the herald reported. “FRML’s view that Smith’s behavior contributed to the dysfunctional relationships that led to her resignation fell far short of proving that legal remedies should be reduced.”


Ultimately, the motel was ordered to pay its former employee $3,481 in lost wages and $18,000 in compensation for “humiliation, loss of dignity, and hurt feelings.” The motel’s current owner said they do things differently now. “I took the leadership role four months ago,” he said. “That will not happen again under my supervision.” Receptionist Received $21,000 After Being Yelled at by Her Boss

Sarah Y. Kim

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