From a Santa-suited manager's suggestive work party antics
to a candy-making fairy accused of vomiting into melted
chocolate, it's been a colourful year for employment
disputes. Matthew Backhouse of APNZ looks at an assortment of
woeful workers - and the bosses whose unlawful sackings led
to big pay-outs.
Disharmony is endemic to New Zealand workplaces, if the cases
heard by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) this year
are anything to go by.
Throw in a costume or two, and that's when things get really
For the fairy at Candyland, it was time to hang up her wings
for good after the candy-maker threw off his themed wig and
walked out during a school holiday show.
Jo-Anne Jarvis, who also left work early, denied allegations
of abandoning her employment, refusing to wear brightly
themed colours and vomiting into the melted chocolate.
The ERA ordered the company to pay her almost $13,500 for
wrongful dismissal - a decision upheld by the Employment
An argument over a costume also led to a big pay-out for the
manager of a themed bar at Auckland's Viaduct Harbour.
Cowboys was ordered to pay more than $12,000 to Tuiono Tauo,
who was wrongly dismissed, partly for forgetting to wear her
cowboy hat behind the bar.
A risque Santa costume fuelled an allegation of sexual
harassment at a Dunedin laundry.
The ERA heard Alsco's production manager attached a bottle
opener to his Santa outfit as a "graphic and prominent
phallic symbol'' at the work Christmas party.
Laundry worker Angela Roskam complained, alleging the
incident was part of a pattern of sexual harassment, but the
ERA dismissed her allegations, noting nobody was offended at
Sometimes, the disputes heard by the ERA got physical.
In one case, a factory worker punched a colleague after
having a rubber band flicked in his eye. In another, a truck
driver kicked a chair across the room after his boss threw a
cup of tea down the sink.
A particularly heated dispute broke out between two orchard
workers and a neighbouring farmer. The ERA heard a father and
son were sacked after the elder man went "ape ****'' and
punched, kneed, head-butted and threw the farmer against a
Threats and bullying were also a common theme.
A youth programme worker was sacked for telling a student to
"**** off'' and threatening to throw him off a boat, while a
worker with an anger management problem was dismissed after
throwing a shovel and sending an abusive text message. Both
were compensated due to procedural errors.
Allegations of theft also loomed large this year. In one
case, a preschool centre manager had to pay $5000 to her
employer after using work funds for booze, cigarettes and
On the flip-side, wrongful accusations of theft proved
lucrative. A clothing store worker, sacked for allegedly
stealing a $35 T-shirt, was awarded almost $20,000, and a
rest home worker, accused of stealing cash from a dying
resident's wallet, was awarded more than $5000.
Sometimes, the ERA hears some unique reasons for dismissal -
and this year was no exception.
A former Tamaki College teacher claimed he was forced to
resign for being atheist and refusing to bow his head in
prayer, while a Feilding kennel worker said she was dismissed
for bagging her boss on the radio.
Sandra Wilson told More FM how much she hated working at Pet
Stay and how unhappy she was with management - but had to pay
$4000 in costs to her former boss after losing the case.
Sometimes, it might just pay to grin and bear it.
HOW TO GET FIRED
There are many ways to get sacked, and this year's Employment
Relations Authority (ERA) determinations make for as good a
guide as any. Here's a few sure-fire ways to lose your job.
* Don't do your job, and watch telly instead: Auckland
Airport sweeper truck driver Robin Muru was sacked after he
admitted watching rugby league, golf and an All Blacks game
instead of responding to repeated calls to clean litter,
which meant planes were unable to taxi. He initially said the
job was too difficult, then claimed the the truck battery was
flat, before admitting a six-hour sports TV binge in the
* Hide your conviction from your boss: Truck driver
Peter Leith was given time off to support a friend at court,
but his boss then read in the newspaper that Mr Leith, a
recovering cannabis addict, had appeared in court himself and
was convicted of cultivating the drug. The ERA found he was
* Put your colleagues in danger: The ERA found pulp and
paper mill worker Warren Wilton - who admitted he was "away
with the birdies'' during a training exercise - was rightly
sacked for putting other workers in danger by failing to
securely close pipes carrying caustic, hot liquid.
* Scare elderly rest home residents, ruin their dinner: Chef
Pramendra Kumar was justifiably dismissed over a barbecue
fire that frightened residents of the Fairview Lifestyle
Village in Albany, causing $1000 of smoke damage and
destroying the barbecue. Catering company Spotless said he
left the barbecue unattended, risking the safety of
residents, some of whom had dementia.
* Get high on cannabis, fall asleep and crash a truck: A
lright, so Chaunte Hepi kept her job as a traffic management
supervisor - but she did have her wages deducted for repairs
to the truck, until the ERA said that was a no-no. Still, it
can't be a good look.