The ERA recently ruled that a preschool teacher who was accused of using drugs by her manager was pressured into quitting her job.
Tanya Wallis was employed by the Kohanga Reo o Ngatiki in Taranaki for fewer than four months before quitting due to accusations of drug use.
Authority member Paul Stapp upheld her claim that she felt pressured into leaving her job.
In April last year, the kohanga’s service manager Angelique Ngeru heard her name being associated with a local drug house. After this happened on several occasions, Ngeru believed that her reputation might be at risk.
Consequently, she visited the place and came to the conclusion that someone related to Wallis was using her name.
In his decision, Stapp wrote that Wallis had been employed by the kohanga for just two months and had nothing to do with Ngeru.
The following week, Ngeru accused Wallis of coming to work under the influence of marijuana on three separate occasions.
Wallis called an emergency meeting in May but was accused by Ngeru of being “totally stoned out of her brains” while it took place.
Although Wallis denied all of the accusations, she admitted that she had smoked synthetic drugs in the past outside of work.
At another emergency meeting a week later, Wallis said she was being victimised by bullying and racism at the hands of Ngeru.
Wallis went on sick leave in May and resigned in June.
Stapp wrote that Ngeru lacked sufficient evidence to prove that Wallis was using drugs. He found that Ngeru should have stepped aside to allow an investigation.
Ngeru claimed that she was trying to help, and presented Wallis with various options to address her problem – but according to Stapp, Wallis had no opportunity to comment.
“A fair and reasonable employer could not act in the way it did by taking the matter to the whanau hui first,” he wrote.
The kohanga was order to pay Wallis $2000 for upsetting her by not following processes, and $1250 in awarded costs.
“It is strongly recommended that all companies that are exposed to health and safety risks have an alcohol and drug abuse and testing policy,” Darryl Voss, director at Employers Assistance, previously told HRM. “This policy should not be too complicated to manage or apply in practice and should be pragmatic. Testing for alcohol and drugs in the workplace may be quite difficult to implement and execute in the absence of a published policy and procedure. It is also important to note that all employees must sign off and agree to the implementation of such a policy and procedure in their employment agreement.”
“It is not the type or legal status of the drug that are an employment relations or disciplinary issue,” he added. “It is the effect that the drugs have on the employee and their subsequent behaviour that must be addressed.”