Employers must ensure that they maintain a safe workplace for their employees or else they may be required to pay compensation.

An employee suffered headaches, sore eyes, respiratory problems, vomiting and diarrhoea after inhaling chemicals used to clean the workplace. The employer told the employee that the workplace was safe and ordered him to keep working.

The Employment Relations Authority upheld the employee’s personal grievance claim for unjustified disadvantage. The ERA found that the employer had breached its contractual obligation to the employee to provide a safe and healthy working environment. The employer had also failed to act as a fair and reasonable employer could by requiring the employee to continue working after becoming aware that he was suffering physical discomfort from working in the hazardous environment. The ERA noted that where work is not a matter of urgency, employees should be removed from the workplace even if their physical effects do not require immediate medical attention.

The ERA held that the employee was also disadvantaged after he was required to continue working after receiving a medical certificate prohibiting him from doing so. This was because the employee’s health and safety coordinator failed to communicate clearly to the employee’s supervisor that the employee was to be assigned different duties.

The ERA awarded $6,000 compensation for hurt, humiliation and loss of dignity after reducing the award by 25 per cent because of the employee contributing to the situation by accepting the employer’s directive to return to work. He should have spoken up about his medical certificate requiring a change of duties during his recovery.