An office worker who brought a bottle of liqueur to work then was sacked when she turned up the next day seemingly hung over, has been awarded more than $6000 for unfair dismissal.
Sarah Anderson, who worked at the Whakatane Beacon, said that she had an extended visit to the toilet to deal with her period, rather than to throw-up as some colleagues had alleged.
In April 2010, Sarah had brought a bottle of Vok into the office that she had bought during her lunch break. It had been passed around unopened for some of her colleagues to look at.
The next day, the Beacon’s Managing Director, John Spring received a complaint that Sarah Anderson had arrived at work hung over.
Mr Spring and Ms Anderson had a meeting later that day where both of them presented testimonials from staff that gave conflicting accounts if the state Sarah turned up to work in.
Ms Anderson was then sacked the following Monday. She was required to pack up her desk and leave the building in full view of her colleagues.
There had been an incident, seven months earlier, where Sarah Anderson was on the receiving end of allegations that alcohol abuse was affecting her work.
The Employment Relations Authority ruled that managing director John Spring had failed to conduct a thorough enough investigation before sacking her.
ERA member James Wilson said in his ruling that Ms Anderson had not been made aware at the beginning of Mr Spring’s investigation that dismissal was a possible outcome.
Mr Spring had also not discussed all his evidence with Ms Anderson, and he had dismissed Ms Anderson’s testimonials without speaking to the testifying staff himself.
“Given that the outcome of his inquiries was Ms Anderson’s dismissal, it was beholden on Mr Spring to ensure that his investigation considered every possible explanation,” Mr Wilson said.
“In my finding he allowed his assumptions to override the need to consider Ms Anderson’s explanations with an open mind.”
Mr Wilson said he considered Ms Anderson’s explanations to be plausible, and a fair and reasonable employer would have issued her with a formal, written final warning.
Sarah Anderson was awarded $3000 in compensation for hurt and humiliation and $3550 for lost wages.
For a complaint of this nature to end up at the ERA, either an employer has been sloppy in their employment relations practices as seems the case with Sarah Anderson’s dismissal, or they have made a conscious tactical decision that a possible personal grievance is worth the risk to remove an unwanted employee.
Employers sometimes decide that a ‘few thousand’ dollars for an ERA settlement is money well spent.
It is important for managers to remember when deciding the level of disciplinary action to take against a staff member, that they consider only the facts that are relevant to this case into consideration.
At times managers’ can allow personal judgements and feelings about a staff member’s performance and conduct to cloud their thinking.
The ERA are not going to have the same feelings and will be looking solely at the evidence to support the disciplinary action and the way the investigation was conducted.