Employee Forced to Pay $10,000 to Keep Her Job

In the ever-evolving landscape of employment law, some cases stand out due to their sheer audacity.

Recently, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ordered a payment of close to $60,000 in unpaid wages to an employee fired under unjust circumstances. Yican Liao, employed by Wenshuo “Jack” Li at Rams Restaurant in Wellington from 2016 to 2020, faced a series of concerning events that culminated in this decision.



Liao worked part time as a manager at the restaurant where she experienced various forms of mistreatment. The tipping point came when she was fired for mistakenly turning off the air conditioning. However, the dismissal was just one part of a broader pattern of concerning behavior.



Liao’s allegations against her employer were as follows:

$10,000 Deposit Demand: Jack Li allegedly forced Liao to pay a $10,000 deposit to retain her job while she was on holiday overseas.

Lack of Leave: She was denied sick leave and annual holidays, fundamental rights of any employee.

Visa Threats: Liao was threatened with the cancellation of her visa, a move that could have significant personal and professional repercussions.

Wage Subsidy Exploitation: During the pandemic, Liao received a wage subsidy, which she was then asked to return to the business.

Threatening Communication: She also received threatening messages via WeChat, that only added to her stressful work environment.


The ERA’s Verdict

Despite these severe allegations, Jack Li did not attend the ERA hearing or respond to the accusations. The ERA held that WSL owed Liao $60,000 in unpaid wages. However, due to the passage of more than 90 days, Liao was unable to pursue a personal grievance for unjust dismissal.

The ERA acknowledged the impact of this ordeal on Liao. “Ms. Liao said she became very stressed to the point she says her mental stress increased to her being on the verge of collapse,” noted ERA member Kennedy-Martin.

Liao’s desire to leave was tempered by advice from family and friends to persevere, ensuring she would receive her full salary and the return of her $10,000 deposit.



This case highlights that employees must be aware of their fundamental rights, such as entitlement to sick leave and annual holidays, and recognise when these are being violated.

It also underscores the importance of understanding the timelines and procedures for filing grievances. Missing deadlines can prevent employees from seeking justice for unfair treatment.


If you are unsure about your rights as an employee or your obligations as an employer, please get in touch with the team here at Watermark Employment Law – we would love to assist you in the matter.