The Human Rights Tribunal is hearing the case of a woman this week who has accused her former employer of attempting to damage her career prospects because of a cake.
A Kiwi company has been accused of sabotaging the efforts of a former employee to find work after she offended them – by baking a cake.
Karen Hammond made a cake for a friend, who was still employed by the company, and was allegedly being bullied at work.
Hammond reportedly iced the cake with the words “NZCU f*** you”, before presenting it to a group of friends and posting a photograph of it to her Facebook page.
According to Hammond, NZCU’s HR manager forced a young staff member to retrieve the photo of the cake, as she was a Facebook friend of Hammond’s and therefore had access to it.
It is alleged that the employee did this against her will, fearing that her job was in jeopardy if she refused.
After obtaining the image, NZCU’s CEO is accused of sending an email to the company’s entire workforce with the photo attached, stating that Hammond’s actions were “offensive and disgusting”.
Hammond added that the organisation’s executives sent the photo to both her new employers and recruitment agencies, requesting that her current employer sack her.
Hammond said that she “iced it with [her] feelings.”
While she said that the cake was intended merely as a “laugh”, she told The Dominion Post that the response of NZCU’s executives showed “malicious intent with complete disregard [for] the law.”
HRM spoke to Bridget Smith, member of Auckland District Law Society, about Hammond’s case.
“You can’t do what HR allegedly did in forcing the employee to obtain the photo,” Smith told HRM. “Had Hammond posted the photo onto Facebook without the security settings in place – so that it was legitimately available for public viewing – it would have been her own fault, but you cannot gain and use information that you aren’t entitled to. The company’s alleged actions certainly weren’t best practice.”
She added that by obtaining and redistributing the photograph, NZCU were breaching privacy and good faith – although the good faith obligation no longer applied to Hammond as NZCU was no longer her employer.
“However, the company still owed an obligation of good faith to the existing employee,” Smith said. “Forcing her to obtain the photo suggests that there is a dysfunctional relationship between the employer and employee.”
Smith also told HRM that internet users hoping to keep certain posts discreet ought to think carefully before sharing them.
“Hammond has been naïve if she thought that by closing her internet settings to private she was safe – you cannot control what third parties do,” she said. “Whenever you are making something public in any way, you need to ask: would I be happy if someone else saw this? The company doesn’t owe her anything – but they certainly have no rights to attempt to get her new employers to fire her.”
According to Smith, if the allegations made against NZCU are true, then they have breached New Zealand legislation.
“Under the Privacy Act, if you collect personal information, you must only distribute it for the purpose it was obtained,” she explained. “However, this personal information was obtained by getting someone else to access it.”
The case is still underway.