The Employment Relations Authority has upheld a personal grievance claim for unjustified dismissal and ordered an employer to pay $9000 to one of their employees.

The employee brought the claim for unjustified dismissal after she was fired for not wearing a hat while working. The employee had dyed her hair blue, and was subsequently asked to wear a hat at work. The employer claimed that the dyed hair did not maintain the professional image of the business, and that a company branded hat was required to be worn.

The employee initially complied with the request, as she did not think it was a permanent change to her uniform. Upon realising that this change was intended to be permanent, she refused to wear the hat. The employee argued that the hat was only mandatory for employees in designated high-risk areas, and that nowhere in the employment agreement did it say that it a mandatory part of her uniform.

Disciplinary proceedings were subsequently initiated by the employer which led to the finding that the failure to wear the hat was an act of serious misconduct, and the employee was dismissed.

The Authority decided that the dismissal was unjustified, as the employer had failed to sufficiently investigate the claim that there was no binding contractual requirement to wear a hat. The employer also failed to properly raise their concerns regarding the uniform policy with the employee, or their reasoning for implementing the hat policy prior to the employee’s dismissal.

This led to the Authority deciding that the employer had not acted in a fair and reasonable manner when they fired the employee, and ordered the payment of $2,700 in owed wages, and $7,000 for hurt and humiliation caused by the employer.

If the employer had been more willing to consult with the employee, and had better explained its position, this dispute could have been avoided and a significant amount of time and money could have been saved.

If there is confusion surrounding employee rights, it is wise to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.


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Alan Knowsley