The Employment Relations Authority has upheld a personal grievance claim for unjustified dismissal after an employee was dismissed by text without any proper process.

The employee had been taken on by her cousin to act as an Administrative Assistant and was living in accommodation provided by the employer.  She was entitled to seek reimbursement of business expenses but did not put in a reconciliation or claim for expenses for many months.  When the claim was put in, it included items which she was not entitled to claim for.  The employer considered this to be fraudulent and fired her cousin by text saying “there is no point in coming back to work and if I were you I would find somewhere else to live immediately”.  

The employee took this as a dismissal and therefore did not attend the disciplinary meeting which the employer then organised after the text.  The ERA had no difficulty finding that the text was a dismissal and could not be read any other way.  This meant that no proper process had once again been followed before the dismissal was made and the ERA awarded $15,000 compensation, $14,500 lost wages and a $3,000 bonus and $1,679 in unpaid expenses.

The company has indicated that it intends to appeal the decision and also to file a claim for unpaid rent against the employee.

The two main lessons from this case are firstly, to make sure you follow a proper disciplinary process before you dismiss and secondly, to take care when hiring family members as often arrangements are done in a less formal way which can come back to bite the employer when family members fall out.

Alan Knowsley
Employment Lawyer