Employer stung by $10k runner

Out of pocket: Pinewood Lodge owner Rob Greigstung by $10k runner

A foreign employee who lost an employment case has seemingly avoided coughing up $10,000 by skipping the country.

Spanish-speaking American Yamilesi Villavicencio was unsuccessful in a personal grievance claim against Queenstown’s Pinewood Lodge for unjustified dismissal.

The Employment Relations Authority ruled, in December, that Pinewood operations manager Michelle Greig had not dismissed Villavicencio when she rang Greig to say she needed more time off work for a broken elbow sustained after a fall on the job.

The ERA ruled that the complainant, who’d only worked eight days as a housekeeper before her fall, pay Pinewood company Grant James Ltd $10,000 towards its costs.

However Pinewood owner Rob Greig, Michelle’s father, says it appears Villavicencio’s skipped the country and won’t be paying a cent.

He’d been concerned this might happen as Villavicencio’s work visa had expired – the ERA had earlier extended it just to complete the hearing of her case. For this reason he’d asked the ERA to order security of costs from both parties before it made its decision.

The ERA, however, ruled it didn’t have the authority to do that.

“This can be resolved by a simple legislative fix,” Rob Greig’s local employment lawyer Janet Copeland says.

She notes that the Employment Court, one jurisdiction higher than the ERA, can order security of costs. The law, she believes, is unbalanced between employer and employee.

“The ERA can extend a visa for an applicant to litigate against an employer.

“But, on the other hand, there’s no safeguard for the employer to be awarded security of costs in the event that the application’s unsuccessful.”

That’s particularly relevant in Queenstown, Copeland says, due to the high number of employees on work visas.

Greig says it’s another example where foreign visitors can skip the country without paying the likes of council fines and search and rescue costs.