Christchurch bakery ordered to pay almost $12,000 after stealing from employee's paycheck

The employee discovered his employer was deducting increasing amounts of pay without his knowledge.
The employee discovered his employer was deducting increasing amounts of pay without his knowledge. Photo credit: Getty Images

A Christchurch baker who suffered "tremendous stress and financial strain" after his employer stole money from his paycheck has won his case.

Now, the bakery has been ordered to pay almost $12,000 for its actions.

Aaron Mitchell started working as a baker for Breads of Europe in 2018, however, things took a turn when he discovered his employer was deducting pay without his knowledge.

In a recent Employment Relations Authority (ERA) determination, Mitchell accused his former employer of deducting amounts from his paycheck at an increasing rate without proper explanation and consent.  

In March/February 2020, Mitchell and his employer Breads of Europe director Brian Cook met to discuss a wage overpayment. A form provided to the ERA stated Mitchell signed off for Breads of Europe to take 2.5 hours per week off wages to repay an overpayment of $5,380.82.

Mitchell had also been given a loan from the bakery of $600 in February to help purchase a car but he said the money had been repaid earlier.

However, Mitchell argued he wouldn't have signed off on the form without speaking to his partner first as he has a medical condition that has impacted his understanding of numbers and documents, the ERA stated.

Mitchell told the authority his wife Sheree had turned up to the meeting but Cook did not allow her to attend.

Evidence presented to the ERA showed the 2.5 hour deductions were made from March to May, 2020, but then they started to increase.

Between June and August of 2020 three hours' worth of wages were deducted from Mitchell's pay and between September 3 to September 17 five hours were deducted. During October, 10 hours' worth of wages were taken from his paycheck.

At the end of October, Mitchell had an "upsetting" exchange with Cook at work and did not return to work while he sought legal advice.

His lawyer Paul Mathews discovered 175.25 hours of pay had been deducted without Mitchell's knowledge.

Mitchell then resigned from the bakery.

"My client simply cannot continue his employment with your client. Your client has destroyed all trust and confidence," Mathews stated in an email to Cook's representative. 

"Having 175.25 hours of pay deducted without his knowledge has caused tremendous stress and financial strain on Aaron and his wife."

The ERA ruled in Mitchell's favour. The authority said the bakery breached the Wages Protection Act by deducting greater amounts from Mitchell's wages than he had consented to and the amounts taken became "unreasonable".

The authority also said the impact of the deductions on Mitchell was "serious".

Breads of Europe was ordered to pay Mitchell a total of $8884.79 and a penalty of $3000 to the Crown.

Cook told the NZ Herald he is appealing the decision.