A teacher was the subject of sexual misconduct allegations after students complained he harassed them during a lesson. While the teacher denied such acts took place, the school board immediately suspended the teacher and engaged the Police to investigate. The board moved to dismiss the teacher before the Police investigation concluded because they believed a “gross misconduct” had occurred. The teacher was subsequently found not guilty for indecent assault at trial.

The teacher raised a personal grievance of unjustified dismissal at the Employment Relations Authority (ERA). The ERA stated that an employer should approach an investigation into alleged wrong-doing by an employee with an open mind, rather than initiating the investigation with a pre-formed view of what occurred. If an employer proposes to make a decision that will, or may, adversely affect the employee’s employment, then the employer is under a duty to act in good faith. This includes providing the employee access to relevant information about the decision, and providing an opportunity for the employee to comment on it before it is made.

The ERA found the school’s investigation was deeply flawed. The school had not provided teachers with any training on how to deal appropriately with allegations of a sexual nature. The teacher was not advised that he could have a representative present, or the details of the allegations made against him, when providing his recollection of events, as per his right under the Teachers’ Collective Agreement. Additionally, the teacher was not provided with a written record of the complaints, and he was given less than a day to comment on the allegations which the ERA stated was unreasonable. The investigative process was held not to be conducted in good faith.

Furthermore, the school dismissed the teacher without waiting for the Police investigation to conclude. This was held to be a serious breach of an individual’s right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

The ERA therefore found that the teacher was unjustifiably dismissed by the school. The school was ordered to pay $45,000 compensation to the teacher for unjustified dismissal and for putting the teacher at an unjustified disadvantage. The school was also ordered to pay for lost wages from the date of dismissal, and a $5000 penalty for breach of their duty of good faith.

It pays for employers to seek legal advice from a legal professional on correct disciplinary processes to avoid paying such hefty penalties, and to protect its staff from the negative effects of unsubstantiated accusation.  


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Alan Knowsley and Hanifa Kodirova