‘High’ cost employee dismissal

Date: 10th January 2013

A recent employment case shows the need for perfect process – even if your employee breaks the law.  Mr O was employed as a full-time builder by Consortium Construction Ltd for 4 years until he was dismissed without notice for using drugs in the workplace.  He denied the accusation and complained that there was no investigation.
What happened: Mr O and his colleagues were working at a demolition site high up on scaffolding when cannabis was smelt and identified as coming from Mr O.  He was told to put it out and did so.  A manager was later informed of the event, and that Mr O had grinned when confronted, admitting it was something left over from the night before.  The manager told Mr O that his employment would immediately end due to his behaviour.
The Employment Relations Authority noted that, as part of the duty of good faith, an employer proposing to end an employee’s employment must give that employee access to relevant information and the opportunity to comment on that information before making the decision.  In this case, Mr O had no chance to mitigate his conduct as accidental or make reference to his employment history.
Despite Mr O having smoked marijuana – potentially putting himself and his co-workers at risk – his former employers were ordered to pay compensation for lost income and distress as well as a penalty for an illegal deduction on the final pay – totalling over $12,000.
Moral of the story: seek advice immediately from an employment specialist and make sure proper process is followed and documented.  Even when it seems a complete no-brainer. 

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