ERA rules she was 'unjustifiably dismissed' by HCNZ
An employee who was terminated for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was awarded more than $43,000 after the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ruled her dismissal as unjustified.
Andrea Hoyle, who was employed by Healthcare NZ Limited (HCNZ) from May 2016, was a full-time Recovery Facilitator who provided mental health support to older adults.
Hoyle was among the New Zealand employees who were laid off from their jobs for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine after cases progressed in mid-2021.
Hoyle said that she had a medical issue that pre-dated her employment with HCNZ and was afraid that getting vaccinated would "lead to her death." She also said that she was unsuccessful in obtaining an exemption.
Hoyle argued that HCNZ unjustifiably dismissed her and did not have "sufficient regard to her personal circumstances and did not explore alternatives to her dismissal."
ERA sides with Hoyle
ERA member David Beck ruled in favour of Hoyle, citing various reasons that made HCNZ's actions "unjustified.
According to Beck, HCNZ did not provide Hoyle an opportunity to respond to their concern before dismissing her, despite the collective employment agreement requiring them to grant the employee a minimum of 48 hours to submit a response.
"Once HCNZ became aware that Ms Hoyle was not going to get vaccinated she was initially dismissed (on 15 November 2021) without any opportunity to comment on a proposal to dismiss her and the same process error was committed when the decision to dismiss was placed on hold whilst Ms Hoyle explored a medical exemption and was then dismissed on 3 February 2022," Beck said in his ruling.
HCNZ also failed to engage with Hoyle's suggestion to perform her role remotely, a "reasonable alternative to her dismissal that was not adequately explored," according to Beck.
"The procedural and statutory failures I have identified above, makes HCNZ's decision to dismiss unjustified," Beck ruled. "I stress this was a close call as I do recognise the immensely difficult pressure placed upon HCNZ by the government's vaccine mandate."
Hoyle wanted to be reinstated in her previous role at HCNZ, but the ERA said both parties should mediate to explore a mutually agreed decision.
Hoyle was granted $18,000 compensation as well as $25,920 gross lost remuneration.
Her award could have been higher if not for the 10% reduction from the ERA after it said: "Hoyle contributed to the circumstances giving rise to her personal grievance."
The decision comes after the ERA heard evidence that Hoyle promoted anti-vaccination views in the workplace.