Dignity in redundancy

The employee must be able to leave with dignity

The Research and Scholarship Manager ("the Manager") for New Zealand Tertiary College was employed from June 2010 until her position was made redundant in November 2010. The College provides training in early childhood education. The Manager claimed that her redundancy was unjustified because it was not made for genuine reasons and that it was carried out in the procedurally unfair manner.

Usually, the burden of proving that a dismissal is justified falls upon the employer who has dismissed. In this case however, the Authority held that because the Manager was asserting that her dismissal was engineered for ulterior purposes, she bore the burden of convincing the Authority that her theory had substance. The Authority found that she was unable to meet that burden because the College had genuine reasons for making her position redundant and that it carried out adequate consultation in good faith.

The decision is interesting, however, because the Authority held that the College did not act as a fair and reasonable employer because it did not take care to ensure that the Manager was able to leave her employment with dignity and it did not give her any support in moving into the next stage of her working life.

The College’s failures are summarised below: -
• The Manager was told she could finish up that day and take 4 weeks paid notice to look for other opportunities. There was no proper discussion about it.
• The College cut off the Manager's phone and email access before she finished up that day.
• The College paid only four weeks notice when the contract said eight weeks (this was rectified more than three months later. The Authority held that the College should have accurately identified their contractual obligations in the first place).
• The College did not enquire about or offer the Manager access to job counselling or EAP services or check that she had access to resources to assist her job search such as email, printer, photocopier etc.
• The College did not enquire about or arrange any appropriate farewell for the Manager.

All of the above meant that the Manager left the college with the feeling of being “hurriedly bundled out of the premises as if she had done something wrong”. The Authority awarded the Manager the sum of $5000 compensation for the humiliation and loss of dignity caused by the way her dismissal was carried out.

[Benton v New Zealand Tertiary College [[2011] NZERA Auckland 429; 03/10/2011; R Arthur]]

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