'It isn't safe': Chasing justice an ordeal after fired over chips

A Dunedin case is set to take centre stage at a national conference on employment law.

On Monday the Employment Relations Authority determined that Mosgiel rest-home Birchleigh had wrongfully dismissed carer Kaye Gillan over her taking a small bag of potato chips from a locked cupboard containing residents' food.

The ERA said while a finding of misconduct might have been reasonable, dismissing Mrs Gillan - who had worked at the home for 12 years - was ''unnecessarily severe''.

Mrs Gillan - who attempted to kill herself in the aftermath of her dismissal - told the Otago Daily Times yesterday that receiving the ERA decision was the first time in three years that she was glad to be alive.

''This decision is massive,'' Mrs Gillan's advocate Allan Halse said.

Kaye Gillan
Kaye Gillan

''I don't know of any other case where someone has attempted suicide and has taken the case through this entire process, as it isn't a safe process.''

Mr Halse said he had about 100 people on his books with stories similar to Mrs Gillan's, but hers was a rare case for having made it all the way through the legal system.

Cost was a huge factor behind such cases not being heard, as was the psychological toll claimants such as Mrs Gillan endured.

''Don't underestimate how difficult it is to have to retell your story, and to sit across from the other side and hear them continuing to accuse you of what happened,'' Mr Halse said.

''The whole process is very difficult, and the Employment Relations Authority member had to adjourn several times because Kaye walked out.

''She was there with a mental health nurse, and she was retraumatised the whole way through - it's not a pathway I would encourage everybody else to do ... I hope it will help decision-makers find a safer pathway.''

Meanwhile Mr Halse's organisation, CultureSafe, is hosting a national conference on workplace bullying in Wellington later this month.

''People don't understand the absolute massive impact that bullying has on destroying someone's self-confidence and self-esteem,'' Mr Halse said.

''People are absolutely desperate and believe they have nothing to do and nowhere to go, and that is happening across New Zealand every day.''

Mr Halse hoped the recently-passed Health And Safety At Work Act would prove an effective tool to combat workplace bullying.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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