Truckie fired for sharing COVID-19 news article awarded $20K

Employer says worker's conduct was 'disruptive to the business operation'

Truckie fired for sharing COVID-19 news article awarded $20K

The Employment Relations Authority recently handed down its decision on a worker fired after sharing a COVID-19 news article to his work WhatsApp group. The employer said the worker’s conduct was “disruptive to the business operation at a time of crisis and uncertainty”. However, ultimately, the authority sided with the worker and ordered that the employer pay over $20,000 in compensation and lost wages.

The worker was employed as a truck driver with a container haulage company. In May 2020, when the New Zealand government announced the country’s first COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, the worker shared a news article to his work WhatsApp group. The article discussed the pending lockdown and whether employees would continue to be paid if they were without work.

Shortly after the worker shared the article, he received a text message from his employer informing him of his dismissal. The employer also told the worker that he would deduct $3,801 from his wages as reimbursement for costs incurred after the worker was involved in two vehicle collisions in the previous months.

The worker applied to the Employment Relations Authority, seeking a finding that he was unjustifiably dismissed.

The Hearing

The authority found that the reduction in the worker’s pay for the cost of repairs was unlawful, given the company had an insurance policy for vehicle damages. It also noted that the worker only consented to deductions from his wages due to his employer’s threats of disciplinary action and dismissal over the accidents.

Turning to whether the worker was unjustifiably dismissed, the authority commented that his conduct was “no different than the physical act of a worker handing around a newspaper at work and suggesting other workers read it”. It found that if the employer took issue with the worker’s use of the WhatsApp group, he “could and should first have addressed” it with the worker.

“A fair and reasonable employer could not have acted in that way without giving [the worker] notice of those concerns and a real opportunity to respond before a decision was made,” the authority said.

Accordingly, the authority found that the worker was unjustifiably dismissed. It ordered $10,000 for “humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to his feelings”, $6,750 for lost wages and $3,801 for unlawful deductions. 

Key Takeaways

  • Employers must ensure they have a valid reason to dismiss an employee
  • In addition, the employer must provide the employee with a reasonable opportunity to respond to the reason for dismissal
  • Failure to do so may lead to a finding that the employee was unjustifiably dismissed

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