ERA looks at whether company's move was unjustified dismissal
The New Zealand Employment Relations Authority recently dealt with the case of a project manager who said he was unjustifiably dismissed by his employer. The latter argued that he was terminated because he failed to disclose that he was fired from his old job due to misconduct.
Henry Brown and Company Limited (HBCL), a construction and renovation company, faced a crucial moment in 2021 when it sought a project manager due to the incapacity of its director to continue in his role for health reasons.
Brendan Ford was considered as a potential candidate. He provided references, including one from his previous employer, Compass Homes Limited (CHL).
After successfully securing the project manager role, Ford started his duties in November 2021. Over time, concerns arose about his alleged attitude towards colleagues and customers.
One of the disputes concerned the handling of the scope of works (SOW) for projects, leading to a dispute between Ford and Brown.
Additionally, issues surfaced regarding Ford's proficiency in the "Rave" software, recommended by him and subsequently implemented by HBCL. It also led to the latter investigating his departure from CHL.
Fired for misconduct
After finding out that the reference person he gave during his recruitment at HBCL no longer worked for CHL, the former started investigating and found that Ford was fired for misconduct.
The situation escalated during a team meeting on September 14, 2022, where a disciplinary letter accused Ford of failing to disclose termination from CHL and causing HBCL to lose a client.
In October 2022, his employment with HBCL was terminated, and Ford disputed the decision, alleging he was unjustifiably dismissed. On the other hand, the employer said he committed various breaches of the terms of his employment agreement.
Employer tries to ‘dig up dirt’
Ford said HBCL “did not ask him about why his employment ended with CHL during his recruitment. He said he did not attempt to hide his termination and was open with HBCL about his disagreements with his previous CHL manager.”
Ford added that he told Brown “about his disagreements with [his former manager] and their diverging views on health and safety. Ford also said he arranged for a CHL representative to help HBCL install Rave. He said these actions were not the actions of a person trying to hide the termination of his employment from a previous employer.”
Ford further claimed he was “unjustifiably disadvantaged when HBCL contacted his former employer without his knowledge.”
He said the true reason HBCL contacted CHL was to “dig up dirt” about him and “was in retaliation to him raising his personal grievances.” He also described HBCL’s actions as “surreptitious.”
‘Obliged to answer’
According to records, the management at HBCL disagreed with Ford’s arguments. It said that they had asked Ford during the job interview about why he left CHL.
In response, Ford said, “he left CHL because he did not like the culture at CHL, and he had concerns about their health and safety processes.”
“The first time they had learned about the termination of his employment was when they had the subsequent discussion with [his former manager]. HBCL said it would not have offered Mr Ford the project manager role if it knew his employment was terminated by CHL for misconduct.”
It also said Ford “had purposely avoided having to disclose his termination because he knew he would not have been hired by HBCL.” The latter also said it required Ford to complete an application form.
“The form included a question about the reasons why he left his previous employment. Ford did not complete and return the form to HBCL,” the employer said.
Was he unjustifiably dismissed?
The Authority said that Ford’s role as a project manager “was a significant role for HBCL.”
“It was reasonable for HBCL to place a significant amount of trust in Ford. When asked about why he left CHL, Ford was obliged to answer the questions honestly and fully,” it said.
“His failure to have disclosed termination of his employment by CHL undermined HBCL’s trust and confidence,” it added.
Thus, the Authority said that his termination did not unjustifiably disadvantage him, nor he was unjustifiably dismissed.