7 May 2015

Employer fined for unfair dismissal

9:52 am on 7 May 2015

A firm that fired a worker for serious misconduct without proving the misconduct has been ordered to pay more than $11,000.

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Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Ratu Waru was dismissed from his job as a supervisor at Metallic Sweeping in Turangi in February last year.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found the company failed to support its allegations, nor did it give Mr Waru an opportunity to respond to them.

In her decision, ERA member Rachel Larmer said: "Mr Waru did not get anything more than the bare allegations which were set out in the disciplinary letter ... Mr Waru was therefore unaware of the full extent of [his employer's] concerns or what they were actually based on."

Ms Larmer found that Mr Waru's boss, Clive Peter, had given him an unreasonably tight timeframe to consider the concerns, without enough time to seek legal counsel.

She also said the way Mr Waru received the news of the disciplinary meeting were not the actions of a "fair and reasonable employer".

Mr Peter had faxed the disciplinary letter to the workplace, where it was picked up by one of Mr Waru's subordinates, who read it before taking it to Mr Waru.

Ms Larmer said it appeared Mr Peter treated Mr Waru differently to other staff.

Mr Waru believed he had been dismissed because he had continued to raise concerns about how the company was deducting its employer KiwiSaver contributions from his wages instead of paying them in addition to his hourly rate.

According to the legislation governing KiwiSaver, employers can't take employer contributions from an employee's pay unless that has been negotiated and agreed to.

Here, the employer amended Mr Waru's employment contract after it had been signed to make that change - but, because Mr Waru had not agreed to it, the amendment effectively had no standing and Metallic Sweeping was ordered to compensate Mr Waru for lost wages.

An employment lawyer, Alistair Espie, said the case was a lesson to other employers.

"If you trump up claims that aren't serious misconduct, and if you follow a quick and rough process that doesn't have regard to procedural fairness and the requirements of natural justice, you may well find yourself in the Employment Relations Authority."

Mr Espie said an employee accused of serious misconduct was entitled to review all the relevant information.

Metallic Sweeping was ordered to pay over $11,000 to Mr Waru not including costs.

Read the full decision by the ERA (PDF, 248KB)