In the last fortnight we’ve seen a couple of Employment Relations Authority decisions get front page coverage in the Wellington press. Both were the result of dismissals that occurred in the Hutt Valley and involved employees being dismissed for swearing at supervisors. In the first case, Cazna Waaka, a bus driver was awarded $10,000 after telling her boss to “stick the job up your arse” and calling her “a f***ing bitch.” In the second, Project Administrator Christine Wilds was awarded more than $13,000 after delivering an “expletive-ridden rant” at her boss during a meeting.
It’s easy to roll your eyes and wonder what planet the Employment Relations Authority is actually on and most people will rightly be outraged by the decisions and the level of payout. However, both cases were classic examples of how employers often get things wrong and it ends up costing them. According to press reports, both employers failed to follow fair and proper disciplinary procedures.
Although the movies would have us believe otherwise, we simply cannot sack people without going through a full and fair disciplinary process no matter what they have done. As an employer, if one of your employees walked in one day, shot their boss dead and walked out, you could still technically get pinged by the ERA if you dismissed without a proper investigation as these two employers did. The legislation is obviously designed to protect the employee from rash decisions and you see employers making these mistakes time and again.
So the lesson for HR professionals is that this is one area where you must have a clear and fair process, and follow it to the letter. It’s easy to get caught up in HR processes at times and I would be the first to try to reduce process wherever possible. But the message is clear – there is no such thing as summary dismissal without a proper investigation. You’ve been warned.