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Man Dismissed Over Misuse Of Sick Leave

Published 10 May 2013

The Employment Court has held that Bruce Taiapa was justifiably dismissed after he misused sick leave in Taiapa v Turanga Ararau Private Training Establishment [2013] NZEmpC 38.

In 2011, Bruce Taiapa, requested a week’s leave but his employer, Turanga Ararau Private Training Establishment, only granted three days and Bruce Taiapa was required to work on the following Monday and Tuesday as there was no one who could cover his work during an absence.

On the Monday, Mr Taiapa did come to work but went home mid-morning after telling a staff member that he was suffering from a longstanding calf injury. On Tuesday, the employer attempted to contact Mr Taiapa about whether he may be able to work on light duties but was unable to contact him.

Another staff member mentioned to the employer that Mr Taiapa may be found at the Rotorua Waka Ama Championships and the employer later saw a photograph taken at that event which was posted on Facebook which showed Mr Taiapa smiling and giving the thumbs up. This photograph was not made known to the employee but this was treated as minor and did not result in unfairness.

On Mr Taiapa’s return to work, the Employer conducted an investigation about his absence. Mr Taiapa was able to get a doctor’s certificate which stated that he was not able to resume work. At the relevant meetings, there were no fewer than 52 different explanations for the relevant events. This included many challenges by Mr Taiapa to the employer’s entitlement to go behind his explanations.

The Court noted that if an Employee qualifies for sick leave from employment for genuine reasons, it is not open to the Employer to dictate where the Employee is to take sick leave. However, where an Employee’s activities during a period of sick leave do not appear consistent with recuperation, this may justify an inquiry. It is to be noted that in this case, the Employer undertook a thorough and comprehensive investigation and followed procedure.

Employers need to be wary when challenging doctor’s certificates but as this case attests it is possible.

For further information on Sick Leave please refer to our Annual Holidays and Leave book online. This is available in the library section of our Employers Toolbox for our Employers Support Package members.