A worker who had been called "a lazy c***" on the job has been awarded $28,000 after the Employment Relations Authority found that he had been constructively dismissed.
The case centres on arborist Grant Shaw, who had been employed by engineering, construction and maintenance services company Electrix Limited since 2006, was in a team leader role in the vegetation team based in Gore.
In February 2018, according to ERA documents, Shaw met with Derek Kooman, Electrix business unit manager for Gore, to discuss a complaint from one of Shaw's team members about not being given enough work hours.
Shaw said he responded by explaining why, in his view, it was difficult to give everyone in the team work on the EWP. Kooman did not accept this explanation, arguing that Shaw's decision not to give work to a staff member amounted to bullying.
This was not the first time Shaw and Kooman had failed to see eye to eye. The ERA decision notes that there were two earlier incidents in 2017 that had strained the relationship between the pair.
In the first incident, an altercation between the pair culminated in Kooman calling Shaw a "lazy c***", while the second incident saw Kooman refer to bullying during a team meeting and inferring there was a bully among the employees.
According to the ERA, what transpired from the latest meeting was an escalation of matters between the pair which involved: Shaw raising concerns about Kooman bullying him and being biased against him; and Electrix undertaking a formal disciplinary process with Shaw resulting in Electrix issuing him with a written warning.
After resigning on March 8, 2018, Shaw brought a personal grievance claim against Electrix for unjustified and constructive dismissal.
The authority heard that in the meeting Kooman accused Shaw of being a bully and told him that by not letting staff advance in their training he was bullying them, and this amounted to serious misconduct.
Shaw told the ERA that he was shocked by what had occurred and concerned about what would happen next. Shaw said he was worried about Kooman's attitude toward him and believed that Kooman had already decided that he was a bully.
According to ERA documents, Shaw accused Electrix of a breach of duty towards him by failing to deal with allegations he made against Kooman; failure to conduct a fair process when dealing with the complaint made against Shaw by a team member; and no substantive basis to justify escalating the team member complaint to a formal disciplinary process and then imposing a written warning.
His employer denied its actions amounted to constructive and unjustified dismissal.
But the authority ruled in Shaw's favour, concluding:
- Electrix failed to deal with the allegations of bullying and bias made against Kooman dismissing them as being not credible.
- Electrix failed to deal with Shaw's stress arising from the alleged treatment by Kooman and left him exposed to further conduct by Kooman.
- Electrix allowed Kooman to continue to manage the complaint by the team member despite Shaw's concerns and complaints about Kooman, concerns and complaints which were well founded.
Shaw was awarded $18,000 in compensation for hurt and humiliation and $10,363.37 in lost remuneration.