Christchurch business owner banned from hiring for three years

Breach of employment laws sees Employment Court exercise new powers for first time. 

The Employment Court has exercised new powers in banning a Christchurch business owner from hiring staff for three years after he was found to have breached employment law.

In a judgment last week, the court issued the ban to Gordon Freeman who, through his company, Victoria 88, ran Watershed Bar and Restaurant and restaurant Sequoia.

Mr Freeman was found to have withheld pay from employees and made “serious and persistent breaches of minimum employment provisions,” according to the judgment.

The move, which prevents Mr Freeman from hiring, being involved in hiring employees, or being an officer of an employer, is the first banning order since the sanction was introduced in 2016 by the Employment Court.

Breaching the ban could prompt a conviction with a fine of up to $200,000, a three-year prison sentence, or both.

Mr Freeman and his businesses were also ordered to pay $20,000 in fines, with $7845 to be paid to 23 employees who have outstanding wages. Half of the penalties will be paid by Mr Freeman, who is a former Christchurch mayoral candidate.

Mr Freeman took over Watershed in August 2015 and sold it in August last year. He sold Victoria 88 for “a substantial loss” and the business owes him more than $300,000, according to the judgment.

The Watershed Bar and Restaurant has kept its name under new owners.

The Labour Inspectorate says in a statement Freeman "intentionally and persistently breached employment law." It first took action against Mr Freeman in 2015 when employees of his company G L Freeman Ltd were forced to take annual leave by being rostered on for a day of annual leave every week without consultation, and without applying for it.

The company reinstated the leave but then failed to pay out employees upon termination, resulting in a $15,000 penalty to the company.

"Mr Freeman cynically abused the trust placed in employers and disregarded the basic rules put in place to ensure everyone in the workplace is getting a fair deal," inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden says.

Mr Lumsden says more bans will follow for businesses with poor practices.

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