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Employee awarded $6,000 after running up $23,000 phone bill and returning late from holiday

Published 11 Oct 2015

A man working for Mighty River Power was recently fired upon his return from holiday a day late and for running up a $23,000 company phone bill whilst overseas.

The employee subsequently raised a personal grievance with the Employment Relations Authority who concluded although the dismissal was justified for the unexplained absence, the process of the disciplinary meeting was flawed.

The ERA determined the following regarding the disciplinary meeting.

  1. The employee was not provided with some relevant information about the data use on his phone and consequently not given an adequate opportunity to comment on it and explain the bill.
  2. The employer had concerns about the employee's conduct that were operative in his dismissal decision which were not properly put to the employee before the decision was made.
  3. The employee was not informed correctly of the opportunity to get advice and representation, if he wished, for the disciplinary meeting.

The Employment Relations Authority determined that the dismissal for returning late from annual leave without notification or approval was justified, however the manner of the dismissal process was adjudged to be unfair. The ERA ordered the employer to pay $6,000, reduced from $10,000 because of the employee's contribution to the situation.

The award was for "loss of dignity and injury to his feelings", and of course the employer is left with the phone bill as well - the employer had applied to seek repayment of the bill, however this was declined by the Authority. The decision on awarding costs has been reserved. 

This is yet another example which demonstrates the importance of following the correct process, to the letter, when conducting an investigative/disciplinary meeting.

Discipline and dismissal procedures are a minefield of justification and process. We strongly suggest to use our Employers Toolbox to check your process and discuss your scenario with our legal team prior to taking any action.

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