A New Zealand petrol company issued a public apology following claims that they had unfairly docked a worker’s wages, holding him liable for drivers who didn’t pay for petrol during his shifts.
In a statement last week, Gull stated that it was “very concerned” by reports that one of its franchises had covered the cost of these incidents using an employee’s wages.
"Gull's policy is not to charge staff for drive offs that happen on their shift and we have contacted all Gull branded sites across the country to reiterate this policy and ensure that it does not happen again," said Dave Bodger, general manager of Gull New Zealand. “Not only do we want to get to the bottom of what has happened, we want to ensure this is an isolated incident.”
Bodger apologised on behalf of the company for the actions taken against employee Kerry McIvor. He also stated that McIvor had received a personal apology as well as a reimbursement.
He added that “significant steps are being taken to ensure franchisees do not deduct pay from employees for drive offs,” leading him to feel “confident” that this issue would not arise again within Gull’s workforce.
HRM spoke to Bridget Smith, a member of Auckland District Law Society, about Gull’s actions.
“This would fall under the Wages Protection Act,” said Smith. “But it provides very limited circumstances where deductions can be made. The act also says that deductions can be made with employee consent. Employers can put a deductions clause in the employment agreement which might list circumstances where this would happen.”
Smith told HRM that such clauses are usually used to cover the costs of company property that isn’t returned when an employee leaves the organisation – and that the employee is able to go back to the employer and withdraw their consent from a deductions clause.
“There’s very little the employee could do to prevent this from happening,” Smith added. “It would have been a different story if he had been negligent or failed to do his job properly – then it would have been fairer that he be held responsible. But this case is simply not fair – it shows Gull to be taking advantage of people at the lower end of the scale.”
She added that the apology issued was more likely to be motivated by reputation protection than sincerity.
“The value for the employee is in remuneration,” she said. “I would ask the employee what they want more – an apology or a bit more money. Apologies from an employer to a worker are usually for how the employee reacted rather than for what the employer actually did.”