Wellington mechanic told of redundancy via letter on computer keyboard wins $15k

A Wellington business has been ordered to pay $15,000 after leaving a letter on a worker’s computer keyboard telling them they were being made redundant.

The Employment Relations Authority has ruled that Maurice Roche was unjustifiably dismissed from his role at Creswick Garage, with the employer ordered to compensate Roche for the humiliation and loss of dignity the situation caused.

Roche was hired as an accounts administrator for Creswick Garage in June 2016 as the business was expanding with the purchase of a second garage, Pembroke Motors.

But Pembroke was closed in 2019 amid financial issues, unsuccessful attempts to replace the garage’s mechanic, and on advice from its accountant, the determination said.

Creswick’s sole director and majority shareholder Rajesh Parbhu said the closing of Pembroke had “totally undermined” the rationale for hiring Roche, which was to cope with work generated by a new business.

That – combined with a desire to reduce costs and advice from his accountant – led Parbhu to determine Roche was surplus to requirements and his employment should be discontinued.

A letter dated May 6, 2019 from Parbhu was left on Roche’s computer keyboard. It stated he could no longer afford to employ Roche, saying he had three weeks’ redundancy notice from the letter’s date.

Roche and Creswick agreed there had been no discussion or consultation about this course of action but Creswick also argued Roche had enough knowledge of the company’s finances to not be surprised by the redundancy.

But Roche said the situation had “blindsided” him.

The authority weighed up whether Creswick’s dismissal of Roche was justified.

In redundancy, employers needed to consult with employees – including, at a bare minimum, put their concerns to the employee, allow for an opportunity to reply, and consider the response with an open mind.

Creswick conceded its processes had fallen well short of meeting those requirements but had attempted to justify that by referencing its small size and lack of experience in such matters – however that argument failed to convince the authority.

The garage also argued Roche had failed to raise his concerns during the notice period and had he done so, a reconsideration of the situation may have occurred.

But the authority said it was Creswick’s, not Roche’s, duty to consult – and cited a statement from Parbhu during the investigation: “If I had followed a proper process, the outcome would have been the same…”

Roche said the dismissal had caused him hurt and disappointment.

The authority accepted this hurt would have been increased by Creswick’s criticism of Roche’s performance and claims Pembroke’s demise was largely due to Roche’s failures in its statements before the authority.

The determination ruled Crewick had failed to justify Roche’s dismissal and ordered the company to pay their former employee $15,000 as compensation for the humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings caused.

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