John Grant was fired from his job as a Hebberds Bus Services driver for Riwaka School, about 5km north of Motueka near Nelson last September.
He took his dismissal to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), saying he was unjustifiably disadvantaged and dismissed.
Mr Grant told ERA member Dzintra King that on August 22 he took a camera onto the bus to get a photo of him on it but when the children became aware of the camera they got excited and asked if they could take photos.
Some mentioned it to their parents, who complained to the school’s Board of Trustees.
The company’s owner, Maurice Hebberd, wrote to Mr Grant and gave him a second and final warning before allowing him back to work.
In early September the acting principal of Riwaka School wrote to Mr Hebberd and said she was concerned to hear Mr Grant was back driving.
She asked that a supervisor travelled with him or he was removed from the run altogether.
When Mr Grant returned from his afternoon run the day the company got the letter he was sent home and fired, Ms King said.
“There was no investigation carried out by the employer. Mr Grant was not given notice of any disciplinary proceedings and Mr Grant did not have a proper opportunity to provide an explanation,” Ms King said in her findings.
The bus owner said he did not need to conduct an investigation because the matter was clear.
But Ms King said Mr Grant had an innocent explanation for the incident.
“It is very unfortunate that a number of people appear to have reached conclusions based on inadequate evidence.”
Although it was foolish for Mr Grant to take a camera onto the bus and then let children use it, he did not act with any untoward or maleficent motivation, Ms King said.
Hebberds Bus Services was ordered to pay Mr Grant $8500 in compensation, $3080 in holiday pay, $309.40 as reimbursement for unjustified suspension, and $2618 as reimbursement for the unjustified dismissal.
HR Development Editorial Comment
There were clearly ‘other’issues in the employment relationship between Mr Grant and Hebberds Bus Services.
This case raises some broader issues that I have seen repeated time and again. Often an employer is unhappy with an employee and sits and waits for the ‘silver bullet’serious misconduct offence which is going to make this problem go away.
The problem with this approach is that in many cases the employer has not documented the other behaviours sufficiently well or not at all. When the more serious alleged offence occurs employers at times are falling over themselves with happiness that the longed for day has arrived that they sack the employee with much thinking to much about whether the process has been completed by the book.
In the cold light of day with the Employment Relations Authority looking objectively at the facts, it can become glaringly obvious very quickly that believing someone is guilty is vastly different from proving it.
While Hebberds may have achieved their original objective of removing Mr Grant, there has certainly been a $14,500 sting in the tail for them. I am not sure how wealthy Hebberds are, but many employers still think that even a judgement against them with a fine is money well spent for removing an unwanted employee.
What employers need to remember in these types of situations is that any employee, no matter how guilty they appear to be, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and given a fair hearing before any sanction as serious as instant dismissal is arrived at.