Office manager asked to post job ad to replace her: Was it unjust dismissal?

Court finds advertisement listed 'almost identical' role

Office manager asked to post job ad to replace her: Was it unjust dismissal?

The Employment Court of New Zealand recently dealt with the case of an office manager who was told to post her own role on a job ad. The Employment Relations Authority ruled she was unfairly dismissed, but the employer disputed it.

The Authority ordered compensation for lost wages, reimbursement of legal expenses, and subsequent cost awards. The employer, MGK Homes Ltd (MGK), challenged specific aspects of the decision, primarily claiming that the termination was by mutual agreement.

The dispute largely centered on events that transpired during a meeting between the parties on May 12, 2020, from which subsequent issues arose.

Background of the case

Bomi Yoon, a single mother from South Korea, relocated to New Zealand in July 2019 and began working for MGK in November 2019 as an office manager. The worker's responsibilities included general office tasks, managing records, and ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations, among others.

Despite an incident regarding incorrect bank details in April 2020, no other performance issues were raised with the worker.

On May 8, 2020, the worker was asked to post a job advertisement for a position similar to hers, signalling a potential replacement. Afterward, a brief meeting occurred between the worker and the director, after which the decision was made to terminate her employment.

Although the employer argues the meeting was not disciplinary, the worker contends that issues regarding payments and her competence were raised.

Meeting between parties

According to records, on 8 May 2020, Yoon was asked to post an advertisement on Trade Me Jobs for a full-time office manager position with Astoria.

Other than noting that a Bachelor’s degree in the field of accounting would be a strong advantage, and including the preparation of financial statements for management and shareholders as one of the areas of responsibility, the position description for the advertised role was identical to that which the company says applied to her role.

A few days later, the employer’s director called Yoon and asked her to attend a meeting at his office, which reportedly lasted just over 10 minutes. Yoon said this was when her “employment with MGK would come to an end.”

Court’s findings

The court found that the worker “was not given any information as to what the meeting would be about,” adding that the employer’s director told her that “[they] had found a replacement for her.”

“The [advertised] role itself was almost identical to that undertaken by [the worker],” the court said.

Thus, the court said that the employer initiated the termination of [her] employment. “She left the meeting knowing that her employment was to come to an end, a position that had not been agreed to by her,” it said.

Consequently, the court found that her dismissal was both procedurally and substantively unfair. “The lack of a fair and reasonable process and the absence of an opportunity to respond rendered the dismissal unjustified.” The Authority's findings were upheld.

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