A Hollow Victory for Employers

Employers should find some comfort in a recent Employment Court decision denying an employee financial remedies because his animal cruelty resulted in an unjustified dismissal.

However, despite the outcome being favourable to the employer, the case highlights the cost of defending a personal grievance claim.

By way of illustration of the time and cost involved:

  • The incident which gave rise to the personal grievance occurred in late 2013.
  • The case came before the Employment Relations Authority in mid-2014.
  • The Authority awarded the employee $7,825.  This comprised 3 months’ wages of $10,650 plus $5,000 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings, reduced by 50% because of the employee’s contributory conduct.
  • The Authority ordered the employer to pay $2,750 to the employee as a contribution towards costs along with the $71.56 lodgement fee (although the employee’s legal costs exceeded $3,500).
  • The decision was appealed to the Employment Court and the Court released its decision on the appeal in August 2015.
  • The Court held that the employee was not entitled to an award for lost remuneration as the decision to dismiss was substantively justified nor an award for compensation as the employee contributed 100% to his own dismissal.
  • The Court set aside the Authority’s order that the employer pay the employees costs and instead ordered the employee to pay $1,750 to the employer for its costs in the Authority.

To summarise, two years after the employer dismissed the employee for cruelty to animals the employer ended up with $1,750, a large legal bill and an invaluable lesson on the importance of getting it right the first time.

What did the employer do wrong?

The Authority and the Court held that the employer was justified in dismissing the employee for animal cruelty.  However, the critical factor was the employer’s failure to provide the employee with witness statements during the disciplinary process.

The Authority held that if the witness statements were provided to the employee, the employee may have been persuaded not to deny the allegations of animal cruelty.  This was critical as the major factor in the decision to dismiss was that the employee failed to admit what he had done. The Court agreed with the Authority but found that, even if the statements were provided, the employee would have been dismissed anyway.

This case illustrates the importance of fully understanding the employer’s obligations when carrying out the disciplinary process and seeking legal advice before taking action.

If you are considering commencing a disciplinary process with your employee, please contact BlackmanSpargo so that we can help you comply with your legal obligations and avoid a personal grievance. Phone us on 07 343 9393 or email us at admin@rurallaw.co.nz