The Employment Relations Authority has upheld a personal grievance for constructive dismissal and unjustified disadvantage.  The ERA has ordered the employer to pay over $28,600 to the employee.

The employee raised concerns she had with another employee bullying her and asked the employer to help resolve those issues.  The employer arranged a meeting with the employee to talk about the bullying concerns, but when the employee arrived the employer refused to meet her and his wife told the employee to start looking for another job.

The employee was then sent a letter raising serious disciplinary concerns and invited to a meeting to discuss those.  When she turned up at the meeting she discovered that the person she alleged to have bullied her was present at the disciplinary meeting.  The employer then proceeded to raise matters in front of the other employee including regarding the employee’s past employment.

In addition the support person who attended with the employee was not allowed to speak at the meeting and was shut down by the employer whenever they attempted to do so.  The disciplinary meeting was followed up by a letter from the employer saying that he expected a much improved attitude and behaviour from the employee.

The employee went off on stress leave as a result of the employer’s behaviour.  While she was on stress leave the employer reduced her hours from 42 hours per week to 25 hours per week and gave the additional hours to the alleged bully.  In addition the employer demanded that the employee, who had raised the concerns about bullying, pay him $500 to compensate him for his wasted time dealing with the bullying complaints.

The employee resigned and alleged that she had been constructively dismissed.

The ERA agreed that the employee had been constructively dismissed because the employer had failed to communicate with her fairly or reasonably and it failed to properly investigate her complaints of bullying.  Having the alleged bully present at the disciplinary meeting was also not appropriate, as was demanding the employee pay for the investigation. Failing to let the employee’s representative speak at the disciplinary meeting was also in error.

The employer was ordered to pay over $8,200 in lost wages, $850 for unpaid Kiwisaver contribution, $224 for a day worked, but not paid, and $1,230 holiday pay which was unpaid plus interest.  In addition the employer was ordered to pay $18,000 compensation for the way they had handled the matter.

It pays to take advice from an experienced professional when dealing with issues of bullying and discipline in the work force.  A failure to get matters right can be very expensive.

Alan Knowsley
Employment Lawyer