A Dargaville business owner has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority to pay his former wife more than $80,000 to cover wages she never received.
Ashwin Lal worked for two grocery stores in Dargaville owned by Jai Enterprises and Lal’s Enterprises, which were both owned by her former husband, Amitesh Lal.
The businesses owned the Victoria Superette and Dargaville Four Square, respectively. Lal said she worked at both from the time they were purchased by the companies until she and Lal separated in 2020.
Inland Revenue records show the companies reported paying her wages, from April 2015 to November 2019.
Her claim was for the tax years from April 1, 2016, to March 21, 2020.
Lal said she was not aware of the supposed payment of wages that had been reported to Inland Revenue, did not receive the money and did not have access to money that the companies reported paying her.
Lal said she only found out about the reported payments after the couple separated and she moved to Whangarei and found a job.
She applied for an Inland Revenue number but found one already existed. On further inquiry she found records of the wage payments. She told the authority this was a “complete shock” and she sought information about her employment rights.
She said she had generally worked between 7am and 8pm seven days a week but her hours had varied over the years, including when her daughter was born and when she went to study.
The companies did not dispute that she worked as an employee but said she did not work as many hours as she claimed. They said that some of the time she was there because she was bringing her husband food.
They said she was responsible for payroll, and had her husband’s eftpos card and a credit card which she used “lavishly”.
But authority member Robin Arthur said there was no evidence that Lal was aware the companies had reported to Inland Revenue that she had been paid, or that she had received any wages. Arthur said a claim that she could not be paid into her own bank account because she did not have one was also untrue.
She denied being responsible for payroll and Arthur said there was no evidence she had been.
“The companies had provided Ms Lal’s counsel with copies of statements for a credit card account of Mr Lal showing that Ms Lal had a card in her own name, enabling her to charge purchases to that account. The statements provided, for early 2016, did show a small number of purchases made on her card,” Arthur said.
“Some were at petrol stations and supermarkets and some were from homeware stores such as Briscoes, Kmart and Spotlight. None of the amounts recorded on those statements could, objectively, be described as ‘lavish’. There was also nothing to indicate that Ms Lal knew or understood that any amount she spent was supposedly from wages paid into her husband’s account on her behalf. Rather, as she said she understood, the purchases on the card were from her husband’s funds and, largely, were associated with costs of keeping and running their household. On that basis, Ms Lal had established a failure to pay her and an entitlement to an award of arrears of wages for the amounts listed in those IRD records.”
As well as $84,000 in wage arrears, the companies were ordered to pay $7400 in holiday pay as well as interest until the amount was paid in full.