30 Sep 2015

$23,000 phone bill 'a complete accident'

4:32 pm on 30 September 2015

The lawyer for a man who was sacked after racking up a $23,000 dollar phone bill while on holiday says it was a complete accident.

man on mobile phone

Photo: 123RF

The Employment Relations Authority has ordered Mighty River Power to pay the senior engineer $6,000 in compensation.

The man - whose name is suppressed - left his company phone's international roaming device on during a three-week family holiday in Sri Lanka in January.

When he got back to work in Hamilton, his boss confronted him about the charges, and also asked why he had returned a day later than expected, and had driven to work in a company car after only two or three hours' sleep.

The authority found he was careless and his dismissal was justified, but awarded him compensation because he was not given a fair chance to explain the bill.

The man's lawyer, Emma Miles, said he was charged for using phone applications he had never even heard of.

"He doesn't even have an iTunes account, he doesn't know what half of these apps are and doesn't use them. So it's not even through his own account, these are just apps that were already on the phone when he got the phone, so he didn't actually download any of them."

She said he was still deciding whether to appeal the authority's decision.

The authority found it could not be satisfactorily established whether the man had received an automated text from Spark early in his holiday warning he had accumulated, by that point, $2486 of roaming charges. Spark had asserted the text was sent on 29 December.

"After Mighty River Power challenged the charges sometime later, Spark advised such a text had been sent but no proof of its despatch or receipt was provided."

The final bill showed data use for various applications including iTunes, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Snapchat, Instagram, Gmail, Akamai and Dropbox.

But the decision also found he was not given a fair chance to explain the bill, so ordered the company to pay compensation for "loss of dignity and injury to his feelings".

Mighty River Power's application for the man to pay back the $23,356 was rejected.