Our labour laws have gone to pot – or why we must do things by the book when sacking a drug supplier

Come in Kate Wilkinson. There’s work to be done in your labour portfolio.

Urgently.

The Employment Relations Authority needs dismantling, our employment law needs rewriting and common sense needs restoring to a boss’s right to fire staff.

But don’t sack the buggers at the authority before we have put new arrangements in place. Otherwise they are apt to take legal action under a system with which they have become all too familiar, and will try to screw the taxpayer for big bucks.

Alf tenders this advice on learning that a small business has been ordered to pay an employee $12,000 – including $6000 compensation for distress – after he was sacked for supplying cannabis to a workmate.

The Employment Relations Authority has upheld a claim by Christchurch appliance repairman Corey Wilkinson that his employer, Saxons Appliances, unfairly dismissed him last March after discovering a suspicious message on his company cellphone.

The message from another employee – found as the phone was being cleared for use by another staff member – asked Mr Wilkinson if he was “able to get any stuff”.

Management at Saxons Appliances, a firm with 28 staff, are dismayed, and with good reason.

“We just think we’ve been shafted. We think employers are being shafted,” said spokesman Michael Hodges.

It seems this Wilkinson feller – Alf trusts he is not a relative of the Minister – is a liar as well as a drug supplier.

We can say that because initially he denied supplying drugs but, when confronted with the message, admitted selling two cannabis “tinnies” to another staff member the previous year.

He later said he could not remember if he sold the drugs or gave them away.

So what was the problem in firing him?

Procedure, dear reader. Procedure.

In these wimpish days, a boss can’t simply tell a staffer to bugger off and don’t come back.

You’ve got to do things by the book.

In its decision, issued yesterday, the authority said Mr Wilkinson said he had repeatedly told the employee he had no cannabis to sell, but after meetings with Saxons management and his lawyer, he was dismissed.

The ERA ruled Saxons had not given Mr Wilkinson notice of the allegation and its likely consequences, or the opportunity to seek support, advice and representation.

It also criticised Saxons for not giving notes from the meetings to Mr Wilkinson’s lawyer, and for its view that Mr Wilkinson had sold drugs in the workplace.

Evidence had shown the transaction between Mr Wilkinson and the other worker took place outside work hours, away from Saxons’ premises.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of a rule book being needed to cover all possibilities. Alf imagines the typical employment manual would be bigger than the collected works of Shakespeare, and no one would read it.

But as this case again attests, a boss must have one.

Saxons had no policy on employees’ use of illegal drugs outside work and – although not deliberately – it had unjustifiably dismissed Mr Wilkinson.

The authority awarded him $6000 compensation for distress, and three months in lost wages

Mr Hodges said the total payout to Mr Wilkinson would probably exceed $12,000.

The company intends complaining to Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson. Good-oh.

They could come to Alf, too, who will give them good support.

He has a lot of sympathy with Hodge’s plea that –

“We’re really disappointed that they’ve not taken into account anything that the company’s put forward. It’s just so unbalanced it’s not funny.”

He said companies now needed a clear policy on alcohol and drugs attached to their employment agreement, and had to bear in mind that “the authority seems still heavily weighted in favour of the employee”.

The comany could appeal the decision, of course.

But that means pouring more money into the matter – and into the pockets of the employment lawyers who are on to a nice little earner with the law as it is.

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