Compensation after sacking

A Queenstown woman has been awarded a total of $15,064 - including $7000 "compensation for hurt and humiliation" - by the Employment Relations Authority.

ERA member Eleanor Robinson found in her written decision, dated April 24, Kaye Symons had been "unjustifiably dismissed" by her former employer Wise.Net Trading Trust in January last year, having been made redundant.

Wise.Net Information Systems Pty Ltd, a Melbourne-based company, sold software support systems to registered training organisations who used the Wise.NET products for online training.

The company was managed by Ben Hamilton, whose father, Geoff, moved to Queenstown to establish WTT in April 2010.

Ms Symons, who also had a part-time job with New Zealand Customs, had been employed as the company's administration and support officer.

Geoff Hamilton said in August 2010 he became concerned the parent company was not being operated efficiently and in December went to Melbourne to check the accounting practices and procedures being adopted.

Ms Robinson's decision said Wise.Net Information Systems Pty Ltd had been "adversely affected by a downturn in student numbers due to immigration law changes".

On January 28, 2011 Geoff Hamilton arrived at the Queenstown office having been asked by Ben Hamilton to participate in a conference call, but he had not been informed what the call was about.

Ben Hamilton was placed on speakerphone and Ms Symons was told her position was being terminated "with immediate effect", it was "purely a commercial decision" and not related to her performance.

Ms Symons inquired if the decision was connected to her rate of pay and offered to take a salary decrease, but Ben Hamilton replied it was a commercial decision.

The termination was effective immediately and Ms Symon's was instructed to give her office keys to Geoff Hamilton and told she would be paid one week's notice entitlement in lieu.

"Ms Symons said that she had then pleaded for her job, but Mr Ben Hamilton had stated that he had to go to another meeting and had left the call.

"Ms Symons said that she had been shocked and had felt numb when the telephone call had finished."

While Ms Robinson found Ms Symons' employment was terminated as a result of a "genuine redundancy on commercial grounds", the company did not follow a fair procedure in making her redundant.

"I find that there was no consultation with Ms Symons, who was not provided with advance notification of the proposal to make her position redundant; information relevant to that proposal; and a real opportunity to provide any feedback.

"I find that WTT did not comply with either the basic tenets of natural justice or with the statutory good faith obligations.

"I further find that WTT did not act as an employer acting fairly and reasonably would have acted in all the circumstances."

Ms Robinson ordered Ms Symons be paid $7680 in respect of lost wages and an additional $384 in interest.

The applicant was also entitled to "compensation for humiliation and distress" due to the abrupt manner of communicating her dismissal, embarrassment at realising another employee had been able to overhear the telephone conversation and an observation by another employee following the conversation that Ms Symons should not be left alone in the office, which "unfairly besmirched her integrity, compounding her distress".

WTT was ordered to pay $7000 compensation.


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