Harassed university professor wins employment case

Employment Court rules university 'breached statutory duties of good faith'

Harassed university professor wins employment case

New Zealand's Employment Court has taken the side of an associate professor from the University of Auckland who became the target of harassment for providing public information during the pandemic.

The court ruled that the university breached its express and implied contractual obligations to protect Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles's safety.

"Further, I find that the university breached its statutory duties of good faith and to be a good employer by failing to engage constructively regarding Associate Professor Wiles's safety, and especially in the way it dealt with her alleged noncompliance with the university's policies," it declared.

Employment dispute

Wiles is one of the academics who become one of New Zealand's most prominent academic commentators for helping explain the science and the approach to managing the risks of the pandemic.

She provided a "significant amount of commentary on the COVID-19 pandemic for mainstream media platforms," the court acknowledged.

"Wiles also made some direct social media posts, principally on Twitter (as it was then known) and Facebook," the court added. "In addition, she discussed the pandemic at some private speaking engagements and made marae and other community visits."

But during the pandemic, the court noted that a small number of New Zealand's population targeted commentators like Wiles on various platforms.

Wiles raised concerns to the university after she became the target of various forms of harassment, including being doxed in January 2021.

The university eventually advised its academics that it does not consider any "externally funded outside activities" to form part of their work for the organisation.

"[And] we do not consider the university to have any obligations towards you as your employer in relation to those activities," the institution said as quoted in the court document.

Breaching contractual obligations

But the Employment Court ruled that university breached its contractual obligations to be a good employer, including as a result of its failure to act in good faith.

"I accept that the conduct of the University made the situation Associate Professor Wiles was in worse and that the whole situation was stressful and distressing to her," the court ruled.

As a result, the court awarded general damages of $20,000 to Wiles, which the university should pay within 28 days of the judgment.

Wiles told Stuff that it was "kind of an amazing result."

"It's what this was all about, and it even upheld my personal grievance which was the document which I guess started the whole legal proceedings," the associate professor informed the news outlet.

"The other thing I feel quite vindicated about is that the Judge accepted that the University's conduct made everything worse and so that was really important to me because I definitely felt like I was being singled out and that's what the Judge found."

Recent articles & video

Green Party calls for ex-member's resignation from Parliament

Government warned about 'fragmented' system amid overhaul of workplace training plans

Disengagement: How can organisations turn it around?

Employees would take pay cut for more privacy at work: survey

Most Read Articles

PwC wins against disgruntled accountant who wanted to nullify settlement

Worker 'smuggles' unauthorised devices in 'high-security' workplace

Whistleblower says identity compromised in protected disclosure case