Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court lagging behind in the compensation stakes

There have been several recent compensation awards in the Human Rights Review Tribunal that are considerably higher than an employee could expect in the Employment Relations Authority or Employment Court. The difference is extraordinary.

If an employee can frame their employment problem as a ‘breach of privacy’ or ‘sexual harassment’, or ‘discrimination on a prohibited ground such as race, religion, gender’ etc, then the employee should seriously consider filing their claim in the Human Rights Review Tribunal (“HRRT”), NOT the Employment Relations Authority (“ERA”).

In Hammond v Credit Union Baywide, the ex-employee was awarded $168,000 by the HRRT, including $98,000 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to her feelings. This case is sometimes called the ‘Rude Cake’ case because the employee posted a Facebook photograph of a cake she had baked and iced. The iced writing on the cake contained rude words about the ex-employer. The ex-employer reacted badly to this, and used private information about her to launch a sustained campaign to stop her from finding work in her local community.

In Singh v Scorpion Liquor a Sikh man was subjected to sustained bullying and racial harassment which resulted in him cutting his beard contrary to his religious observance. He was awarded $45,000 for hurt feelings compensation plus awards for wage arrears and legal costs.

Colin Craig is the well known former leader of the Conservative Party. Rachel McGregor was his former Press Secretary. In its March 2016 decision (not released until October 2016), the HRRT awarded Ms McGregor $120,000 for hurt feelings caused by Colin Craig’s breaches of the confidentiality provisions of a Settlement Agreement between the two of them.

An employee in the Employment Relations Authority or the Employment Court is lucky to be awarded $15,000 for hurt feelings. The rare upper limit is $25,000 to $30,000.

The Employment Court has not been deaf to complaints that compensation awards have remained stagnant. Recently, in Hall v Dionex [2015] the Employment Court expressed sympathy for the view that awards had fallen “woefully behind” in the ERA and Court and stated that they should consider inflation when making an award. This message was heeded in Rodkiss v Carter Holt Harvey [2015] in which a ‘substantial’ award of $20,000 compensation was made. 

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