The Employment Relations Authority has ordered an employer to pay $21,000 to a former employee after treating her unfairly.

The employee was involved in two disciplinary meetings which she was not given notice for, nor was she told what they were about. The employee was suspended without pay during the first meeting.

The employee was dismissed after the second meeting for a number of reasons, including accusations of theft and refusal to take a drug test. The employer stated that these actions constituted serious misconduct and used this as the reason for her dismissal.

Some of the other allegations included stealing cash from the till, giving unauthorised discounts to customers, and drug use. The employer also sent an announcement to staff stating the circumstances of the employee’s dismissal, including the allegations against her. This announcement implied that she was a drug user.

The employee admitted to taking food from the employer which she paid back from her final pay, but strongly denied all other allegations.

The employee raised personal grievance claims with the Authority for unjustified disadvantage regarding her suspension and for unjustified dismissal.

The Authority decided that the employer had unjustifiably disadvantaged the employee by breaching good faith obligations. The employer was obligated to undertake a fair procedure when suspending the employee, but failed to do so. They did not inform the employee of the investigation into the claims against her, how long her suspension would be, or whether she would be paid.

The Authority also decided that the employee had been unjustifiably dismissed. The law requires that employers must act fairly and reasonably when dismissing an employee. In this case, the Authority held that the employer was substantively justified in dismissing the employee, as her admission of taking food without paying for it amounted to serious misconduct.

However, the employer failed to follow any fair procedure before dismissing the employee. The employer did not sufficiently investigate the allegations against the employee, failed to raise their concerns with the employee, did not allow the employee a chance to respond to the claims and failed to genuinely consider her explanations before dismissing her.

The Authority concluded that these were serious and fundamental failures by the employer, and ordered them to pay $21,000 to the employee for the distress caused by her disadvantage and dismissal.

All employees are entitled to certain rights when operating in an employment relationship. If you think you have been treated unfairly, it may pay to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.


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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors