Barber hit with $12,000 in penalties after assistant cuts hair

By Contributor

A young worker hired by a barber to sweep floors and make coffee also cut clients' hair. She has been awarded compensation after she challenged the nature of her employment. Photo / Getty Images

By Tracy Neal, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Te Tauihu-o-te-waka

A young woman taken on by a barber shop to sweep floors and make coffee cut the hair of three clients, triggering a costly employment penalty for the business.

Star Cutz Barbershop in Palmerston North has been ordered to pay $12,772 in unpaid wages, holiday pay and compensation to Emma Chloe Morgan for the two weeks she was there on a trial basis.

It has also been hit with a $4000 penalty for breaching minimum employment standards and a $1500 costs order.

A person at Star Cutz who called himself the manager, but declined to be named, told Open Justice the business was in talks with its lawyer about a possible appeal.

Following an interview facilitated through Work and Income, Morgan was engaged by Star Cutz to work, purportedly on a trial basis, at its barber shop in Palmerston North starting on April 28 last year.

She was told by a work broker that there was an opening for someone with no experience and that the job was to be on full wages.

Morgan attended an interview the same day, and met with Fetuoiga (Star) Fidow, the sole director and shareholder of Star Cutz.

Her evidence to the Employment Relations Authority was that it was agreed that she would be engaged for a two-week trial period, and that she would not be paid for that period but that she would receive training.

If all went well, Morgan was told there might be a job after the trial period.

She was not provided an individual employment agreement at the interview.

Morgan's evidence was that Fidow, at the initial interview, told her not to advise Work and Income of the arrangement made as they would cancel her benefit.

The ERA said Morgan's statement provided prior to the investigation meeting appeared to be in conflict with that evidence, but it accepted her oral evidence, noting that she also said that she brought the comment made by Fidow to the attention of her Winz case manager.

From the first day, Morgan was assigned duties including sweeping and cleaning, operating the till, making coffee for customers and staff, and on one occasion she was given some instruction as to a haircut being given to a client.

Morgan gave evidence that during her two weeks at Star Cutz she performed three haircuts, including two for walk-in customers, and one for Fidow's eldest daughter.

The manager spoken to by Open Justice declined to comment as to why the business did not engage with the ERA process.

It did not lodge a statement in reply and did not no appear at the investigation meeting.

The manager also laughed when asked why someone on a trial had been tasked with cutting clients' hair. He said Morgan appeared confident, but he claimed the clients were unhappy with their haircuts and reviews online were "not good".

Open Justice has made efforts to reach Morgan through her legal representative and via social media.

After the trial period ended, Morgan lodged employment proceedings based on the argument she had not received training as had initially been discussed at the interview.

She also claimed that she was an employee during her engagement with Star Cutz and that she should have been paid wages for that period.

Morgan claimed she was unjustifiably disadvantaged in her employment resulting from Star Cutz's failure to pay her wages, and additionally in not providing her with an individual employment agreement.

The two-week trial came to an end on May 11, 2021, with no further discussion about ongoing employment.

That night Morgan went to the premises with her father, who asked Fidow to pay his daughter, in acknowledgement of the work she had performed and had not received any training.

Fidow declined to make payment, but after a series of text exchanges with Morgan's father he paid $52 – less than a dollar for each of the 82.75 hours worked.

The ERA said it was evident from correspondence provided that Fidow felt he had an arrangement with Work and Income whereby they would send him volunteers for work experience.

ERA member Rowan Anderson said it was also apparent from correspondence between Morgan's lawyer and Work and Income, that the agency denied there was a volunteer arrangement in place.

Winz said the interview attended by Morgan followed two positions advertised through Winz for paid employment.

Morgan also raised the issue with the Labour Inspectorate, which indicated she had performed tasks of commercial value to Star Cutz, and considered Morgan was entitled to at least the minimum wage for time worked.

The ERA found that Morgan was an employee of Star Cutz and was not engaged on a legitimate unpaid work trial basis.

Neither was she paid wages for the hours worked, nor annual holidays; both of which she was entitled to.

When considering all the matters on which the barbershop was found to have failed Morgan, it was ordered to pay her $1603 in wage arrears, $132.40 in unpaid holiday pay plus $37.34 interest on what was owed.

Star Cutz was also ordered to pay $7000 compensation for hurt and humiliation, $4000 in penalties to be paid into the Crown account (via the ERA) and $1500 in costs to be paid to the Manawatū Community Law Centre within 14 days of Morgan receiving it.