Wolf-whistling worker wrongfully dismissed

An Auckland labourer sacked after complaints he wolf-whistled at a woman and made lurid comments has been awarded almost $7000 for wrongful dismissal.

Barry Simpson had been employed by DDS to dig up pavements and lay fibre-optic cable as part of the company's contract to install broadband connections throughout Auckland.

But after six months with the company, he was suspended and later fired over a complaint about his behaviour in one of the company's trucks.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) was told an irate husband called the company and alleged his wife had been subjected to lurid comments and wolf-whistling at a south Auckland intersection on April 2 last year.

The man said his wife had been in a black Holden Commodore when she was subjected to the abuse from an employee in a blue DDS truck on Browns Rd in Manurewa.

The ERA heard the husband was angry and had threatened to come to the DDS site.

DDS project manager Craig Hooker concluded, from talking to the husband and staff, that Mr Simpson and another employee had been involved in the complaint.

He called Mr Simpson that evening and told him there had been a complaint.

Mr Simpson explained he had been waving to a DDS employee in another company truck at the intersection, not at the woman in the black Commodore.

But his manager questioned how he knew it had been a black Commodore, to which Mr Simpson replied that he liked that model of car.

DDS director Jeff Ottaway called Mr Simpson into his office the next day and suspended him from work. The labourer was dismissed two days later.

Mr Simpson raised a personal grievance claiming he was unjustifiably suspended and dismissed.

ERA member Eleanor Robinson agreed, noting there was no evidence an investigation had been launched before Mr Simpson was suspended.

There was also no evidence that Mr Ottaway had conveyed Mr Simpson's explanation, or a letter apologising for any misunderstanding, to the complainant.

"Had he done so, there is a possibility that she may have withdrawn her complaint."

Ms Robinson said the company had preferred the complainant's evidence over that of its employee, despite his good work and behaviour record, and had not considered options other than dismissal.

She ordered DDS to pay $1650 in lost wages and $5000 in compensation to Mr Simpson. Costs were reserved.

- Matthew Backhouse of APNZ

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