Bills mounting for embattled young employer hit with yet another order, this time legal costs

Workers’ advocate Alex Kersjes says awards left unpaid are subject to enforcement, which can be a costly and time-consuming process. Photo / Supplied

A small business owner ordered to pay $22,000 to one of several workers she’s sacked has been hit with another large bill, this time for legal costs.

Katherine Courtenay-Roe now faces compensation, penalty and costs orders climbing upwards of $95,000 for matters related to her actions as an employer.

But the 30-year-old Hamilton businesswoman told Open Justice she’s close to breaking point as her efforts to set up in business, primarily to employ young women, are crumbling around her.

In August she went on TikTok saying she wouldn’t be paying a cent of the compensation awarded to one fired worker, and has now been ordered to pay $4645 toward the ex-employee’s legal costs.

Courtenay-Roe has again told the Employment Relations Authority she has no money, and will not be paying.

The authority ruled in early August that the company owned by Courtenay-Roe, Simply Girls Painters and Decorators Ltd, owed former worker Ronique Rosser compensation and wage arrears after she had established a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal.

Rosser was dismissed from her job in Hamilton as a brush hand two months after starting with the small business in November 2020, following a confrontation with Courtenay-Roe over the employment contract.

She was now also one of a list of people sacked from the company in recent times.

The bills are mounting for the head of a painting and decorating firm who has sacked a string of workers. Photo / 123rf
The bills are mounting for the head of a painting and decorating firm who has sacked a string of workers. Photo / 123rf

Four workers employed between May 2020 and May 2021, lodged joint grievances this year for unjustified dismissal and disadvantage, three of whom were also recently successful in their case against the company.

They were awarded a combined $40,000 in compensation, unpaid wages, lost wages and unpaid public holidays.

Simply Girls Painters was also ordered to pay several thousand dollars in penalties and a further $8000 in costs.

It followed a decision a month before, in which another worker Tyla Roberts also proved she was unjustifiably dismissed by Courtney-Roe and was awarded $12,000 compensation.

She was also this month awarded costs of $2250.

Submissions filed on behalf of Rosser sought a contribution to costs.

Courtenay-Roe emailed the authority on August 25 to say Simply Girls had no money to pay any awards, but no supporting information was provided, ERA member Marija Urlich said in the recently released costs decision related to Rosser.

Courtenay-Roe had said on the video after the decision over Rosser was released that while the employee had won, another reason she was “never going to get any money out of me”, was because the company in question was waiting to be voluntarily liquidated.

A search of the New Zealand Companies Office site showed Courtenay-Roe was still a director and shareholder of Simply Girls Painters and Decorators which filed an annual return in April this year.

She previously told Open Justice she was like many small businesses in that they were “not made of money”, and that she was going to have to file for liquidation and personal bankruptcy and go on a benefit.

Courtenay-Roe said today she was now assessing her options over what to do, but from her past experience as an employee who was successful in a claim against an employer, but then never received the award, she planned to just sit back and wait.

“I won a court case in the past and I never got any money out of them.”

She said her decision to become self-employed was because of her experiences in the retail workplace, but she was fast becoming disillusioned.

The owner of a small business has mounting bills after workers she sacked proved the dismissals were unfair. Photo / 123rf
The owner of a small business has mounting bills after workers she sacked proved the dismissals were unfair. Photo / 123rf

“I feel like there’s not a lot of help and support for employers. If you go out of your way to do stuff, people always take advantage. No one’s ever grateful.

“People are human – people make mistakes and I also have challenges which have made it harder.”

Courtenay-Roe said while she had support from business advisers, she had a learning disability which made it hard for her to resolve conflict when it happened.

Rosser’s advocate Alex Kersjes said any awards not paid would be subject to enforcement.

“In this situation, the employer has clearly indicated they will not be paying, and enforcement will commence.”

Kersjes said it appeared the employer had started a new business undertaking the same work as before.

Courtenay-Roe confirmed this was correct.

Companies Office records showed she was a ceased director and former shareholder of two companies, but a current director and shareholder of a number of other companies established this year.

She told Open Justice she enjoyed the home decorating industry because it was “self-rewarding”, and while she would like to either go it alone or employ higher skilled people, she was unable to afford it.

Kersjes, who founded worker advocacy firm Sacked Kiwi, said the ERA was beholden to award reasonable costs to ensure access to justice.

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