Blenheim worker wins $16,000 in damages over unjust dismissal claim

ERA says woman's employer predetermined to fire her

Blenheim worker wins $16,000 in damages over unjust dismissal claim

A woman in Blenheim was awarded $16,000 in damages following a ruling by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), which determined that she was unfairly dismissed by her employer.

Tania Keane was initially hired by the co-director of Genuine NZ Ltd (GNZ) in March 2022 to manage and establish operations for a bed and breakfast.

Keane was later tasked with an additional role in marketing for Petpow, a new venture under GNZ. Her responsibilities included remote work, with communications primarily conducted via WhatsApp and in-person meetings with the co-director, referred to as “Ms Harris” in a court document.

Disagreements soon arose between the two, leading to Keane’s dismissal after three months.

Harris reportedly had issues with Keane’s interactions at the factory that produced Petpow’s products, as well as her communication style. Meanwhile, Kean said she was never told she had done anything wrong and found it hard to understand why there was “resistance to her ideas” when it came to developing the business.

Arguments over WhatsApp, in-person meetings

The investigation conducted by the ERA focused on three specific incidents between the two, including a WhatsApp exchange in which they discussed how Keane should conduct herself during an upcoming visit to the factory.

“Please act like you are keen to learn about the process and not give recommendation on improvement,” one message from Harris said. “But let me know if there are better ways… The last thing I want is to be told they don’t want you there. I know it’s very frustrating, but we need to accept this is all we have to work with right now.”

In response, Keane said she was frustrated because this made her job harder to do.

“I am currently trying to set up the automated sales workflow which will essentially make [the other employee’s] job easier but I’m currently flying blind as I don’t know what the process is when someone purchases,” said Keane. “I cannot do my job properly when I cannot communicate with half of the team.”

This exchange was followed by a meeting in Harris’ home, which escalated into another argument. Keane claimed that she was locked out of her work applications following this meeting, but Harris said she assumed Keane had resigned because she “stormed off” after they argued.

Dismissal predetermined, unjustified

ERA member Sarah Kennedy-Martin said in her ruling that the evidence provided by both parties point to Keane being dismissed from role, contrary to Harris’ claims.

She said Keane’s decision to walk away from the argument “cannot be considered to be a resignation.”

“There was no evidence Ms Keane said she was quitting or of her tendering her resignation,” said Kennedy-Martin, citing the fact that Keanne had tried to return to work a few days after the argument.

The ruling went on to note that Keane’s termination was predetermined and therefore unjustified.

“It is well established that employees are entitled to expect a fair and reasonable process when they are dismissed,” said Kennedy-Martin. “Predetermination results in unfairness to employees and is more than a minor defect in the process a fair and reasonable employer can be expected to follow.”

The ERA awarded Keane three months’ worth of lost wages and $16,000 in damages as compensation for “humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings,” with Kennedy-Martin noting that damages were adjusted from $20,000 due to certain behaviours by Keane that contributed to the tensions.

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