Colleague threatened to kill another because he was snoring

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sunday, 5 May 2019, 11:20AM
A man's snoring was too much for his colleague, who allegedly threatened to kill him. (Photo / 123rf)
A man's snoring was too much for his colleague, who allegedly threatened to kill him. (Photo / 123rf)

Two travelling salesman sharing a motel room in Hamilton lead to alleged violence and threats - and ultimately a $9000 payout.

Neil Armstrong worked as a sales assistant for Surplus Brokers Limited (SBL). He worked at displays in shopping malls and at specialty events such as field days or car shows promoting caravan and trailer products SBL sold under the Road Chief brand.

In early April, Armstrong and a colleague - identified only as "Mr R" in an Employment Relations Authority judgment - travelled to Hamilton for a four-day assignment.

They were provided with one motel room to share as overnight accommodation.

The first night did not go well.

Armstrong told the ERA that in the early hours of Saturday April 7, Mr R had threatened to kill him for snoring.

He later added that Mr R also assaulted him by pushing him into a wall in the bathroom of their motel room.

Armstrong said he was pushed with such force that a mirror on the bathroom wall broke.

Around 2am, Armstrong retreated from the room to spend the night his car, which was parked in a nearby supermarket carpark.

From there, he called the police. Two constables spoke to him then visited the motel but, according to the ERA, "were unable to rouse Mr R."

Relations between the two salesmen had started on a brighter note.

Armstrong and Mr R had spent some time drinking in their motel room before going to a local RSA, where they had more drinks and played snooker for around two hours.

Around 9pm, they left and parted ways. Mr R went on to another bar.

Armstrong found a restaurant and had a meal, returning to the motel room soon after 10pm. Mr R had the only key and Armstrong had to wait outside until Mr R returned around 11.30pm.

Mr R was intoxicated and shouted at him, Armstrong told the ERA. Armstrong conceded he was also angry and shouted at his room-mate about being left to wait outside the room. Another guest complained about the noise.

Armstrong sent his boss at SBL a text message at 6.39am explaining what happened. He was given permission to sleep in a work vehicle that day. A few hours later, he travelled back to Auckland by bus.

He let his boss know he was leaving Hamilton. His boss texted that Armstrong had let him down badly and to leave his work shirts at SBL's Auckland depot, saying he would decide what to do the next day. He added that the motel had made a noise complaint and charged SBL for the broken mirror.

Armstrong took the order to drop off his shirts as a dismissal and did not turn up for work the next day.

On April 10, Armstrong's boss dismissed him by email, citing his absence and saying SBL "not be continuing our job role offers with you".

Mr R did not appear at an ERA hearing for mental health reasons, but submitted that he made the snoring death threat "in a joking way."

He denied the assault or any knowledge of the broken mirror.

The ERA did not accept SBL's argument that the request to Armstrong to return his shirts did not constitute a dismissal.

The Employment Court also noted that Armstrong did not add the alleged assault to his account until April 25, so his boss was not aware of it as a mitigating factor at the time of his dismissal.

Armstrong said he had not initially mentioned the alleged attack because he was concussed.

The ERA said there was no medical evidence of concussion.

There were several reasons to doubt the reliability of Armstrong's later account, the ERA said, noting that the "memory" of the alleged assault had come to salesman in a dream as he suffered from a virus.

There was also dispute about the nature of Armstrong's employment, given he was never provided with any official documentation. The ERA ruled there was a clear employment relationship between Armstrong and SBL, evidenced by an email trail and Armstrong' work history between November 2018 and his April dismissal. On each occasion he worked for between two and four days.

Armstrong had claimed $25,000.

The ERA awarded him $10,000, but reduced the amount by 10 per cent because Armstrong's own conduct had contributed to the situation with his role in the altercation outside the motel room at 9pm and the doubts surrounding his assault claim.


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