The Employment Relations Authority has ordered an employer to pay $19,700 after the unjustified dismissal of an employee.

The employee worked for the employer for seven months without issue. On one of his rostered work days, the employee called in sick. The employer called him whilst he was off sick and a discussion was had which led to the employee returning to work for the rest of the week.

After returning to work for a few days, the employer noticed that the employee was struggling with a task that he would normally be able to complete. The employer knew that the employee was a cannabis user, and inferred that the employee was under the influence of cannabis whilst at work.

The employer and employee met that lunchtime and discussed the employee’s living arrangement, and unpaid breaks. No issue was raised in regard to the alleged cannabis use.

After this meeting the employee went home and called his doctor. The employee was issued a medical certificate for four days off work.

Whilst at home, the employee posted a photo of his cannabis on social media. His employer found out about this, and requested a meeting with the employee for the following morning.

A phone call took place between the employee and employer, during which the employer again proposed a meeting that day with the employee. The employee refused saying that he was told by the doctor to isolate pending the results of a COVID test. The employer insisted and the employee eventually accepted the invitation.

At this meeting, the employer revealed that he had seen the social media post and immediately suspended the employee without pay. The employee left the meeting.

The employer emailed the employee later that afternoon stating that the details of his termination were to be drafted and sent to him. The employer visited the home of the employee that evening and delivered a letter of dismissal to him in person. The employee was also given 14 days to vacate the premises, as he had been living on the employer’s property.

The Authority decided that the suspension of the employee without pay caused him significant stress, and that this amounted to unjustified disadvantage.

The Authority then had do decide whether or not the dismissal was justified. The employer did not investigate the actions of the employee, and the issue was not raised with the employee prior to the initial meeting. There was no opportunity for the employee to have input in the dismissal decision, and no evidence of the employer’s claims were presented to the employee prior to the dismissal.

The Authority decided that the dismissal was therefore unjustified. It was also decided that the employee did contribute to the dismissal by posting his possession of an illegal substance on an account that he knew his employer would see. The Authority reduced the amount that the employer was liable for by 15%.

The employer was ordered to pay $6,150 for unpaid wages and holiday pay, $10,200 as compensation for the hurt and humiliation caused by the dismissal, and legal costs of $3,350.

If there is confusion around the correct dismissal process of an employee, it pays to seek advice from a professional in the area.


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