Labourer accused of breast comments wins $10k

A labourer accused of commenting on a co-worker's breasts has been awarded $10,000 after his employer treated him unfairly.

Larry Thompson had been working at the Invercargill branch of heating and ventilation company BL Rayner 1993 Ltd for six months when he became embroiled in a harassment scandal.

An Employment Relations Authority (ERA) judgement released this month ruled the firm caused disadvantage to Mr Thompson through its handling of the fiasco.

The labourer allegedly made inappropriate comments to colleagues about a woman they worked with.

She confronted Mr Thompson and he ''vehemently denied'' making such remarks.

She took her complaint to bosses, who interviewed those involved.

On July 24, 2017, financial controller Bill Porter, who conducted the investigation, said he was unable to confirm whether the lewd utterances had been made.

Despite effectively clearing Mr Thompson, he sent him a letter calling it a ''serious misconduct issue''.

''We do not expect that you will:

"1. Make any comments of a sexual nature about any employee (suggestive or blatant), whether at work or outside of work, or

2. Comment on any dating profile or pictures of any employee. You need to be careful that any banter is well clear of the line whereby it may be interpreted as such,'' Mr Porter wrote.

Any instance of sexual harassment ''would almost certainly result in your dismissal'', he told Mr Thompson.

As the work environment deteriorated further, Mr Thompson filed a personal grievance for unjustified disadvantage.

By October 20, 2017, he was out of a job.

After an attempt at mediation and a further complaint from the woman, Rayner disestablished Mr Thompson's position.

His claim of unfair dismissal was rejected by ERA chief Jamie Crichton, who heard the case.

The Invercargill arm of the the business had been sustaining heavy losses for the preceding two years and there had been redundancies in 2016.

Mr Crichton accepted the dissolution of Mr Thompson's role probably looked like a sham but it was valid in the circumstances.

The way he was dealt with before that, however, was unlawful.

''Given the finding it could not be demonstrated on the balance of probabilities that he had done what he was alleged to have done, to then proceed to set out rules of engagement for him seems a bridge too far,'' Mr Crichton said.

He ruled that the company telling Mr Thompson further harassment would likely result in dismissal was not the action of a reasonable employer.

''It's hard to see that last sentence [in the letter] as no more or no less than a threat,'' Mr Crichton said.

Mr Thompson suggested he should be compensated with $15,000. The ERA settled on $10,000 and left parties to come to an agreement on the payment of legal fees.

The woman declined to comment on the outcome since her own case was yet to be decided by the authority.

The company has since been sold and the former management team is no longer in place.