When business and family drama mix – An employment law nightmare


When family drama and business mix, then things tend to get tricky. Well, a situation involving both occurred in a recent Employment Court case RDJ v SGF, where things took a turn for the worse after a couple who co-owned a business separated.  



Robert and Sarah (names changed for privacy) were partners who co-owned a business before their relationship ended in 2016. At the time of separation, Robert agreed to cut his financial ties to the business; however, he returned to work for the business in 2019 while Sarah recovered from a mental health breakdown. 


Course of Events:  

Over the course of Robert’s employment, Sarah and he had ongoing communications regarding child arrangements and living conditions, many of which were inside of working hours.  

In 2020, Robert and his new partner met with Sarah at a café to discuss family and child arrangements. The meeting was “heated” and ended badly with Sarah biting Robert’s partner’s arm, which caused a bruise. Later in the evening, Sarah messaged Robert, saying, “I hope you die.”

The next day, when Robert arrived for work, he had to walk past a samurai sword, a gun, and adult toys. Robert complained to Sarah about the objects, and they were removed the next day. Sarah claimed that they were put there as a joke between a friend and herself.  

On November 11, Sarah called Robert into a meeting and began discussing parenting arrangements. The discussion became very intense, with Robert shouting, hitting the table, and slamming the door as he left the room. Robert was also heard hitting the fence outside with his fists, causing two large thuds.  

Early in 2021, Robert handed in his resignation, citing in his personal grievance that his resignation was a constructive dismissal resulting from incidents of bullying and inappropriate behaviour. He claimed that he no longer felt “comfortable” in the workplace and felt like he had “no other option” other than resigning.  

Legal Reasoning:  

The Employment Relations Authority found that there was no constructive dismissal, but Robert had suffered unjustified disadvantage. Robert had been unfairly treated when he was served with trespass notices for personal reasons, and Sarah had used her position of power to “pursue…concerns about family matters.” Robert’s application for domestic violence leave was also unfairly assessed and a reasonable employer would have agreed to the leave.  

Key Takeaway:  

Employees are employees – regardless of whether they also happen to be a family member or ex-partner. When an employment relationship is afoot, it is important that all employees are afforded the same rights and obligations. It’s always tough when a business relationship includes some sort of family drama. However, when deciding to work with a family member or an ex-partner, it’s important not to disadvantage the person due to the feelings or resentment that are held towards them; they must be treated just like every other employee.  


If you believe that you are being disadvantaged in your workplace, or have a complicated employment relationship scenario, please don’t hesitate to contact the Watermark Employment Law team. We are happy to assist you.