Unjustified dismissal: Oranga Tamariki to pay youth worker nearly $30,000

ERA rules employer took inadequate steps to handle case against worker

Unjustified dismissal: Oranga Tamariki to pay youth worker nearly $30,000

Oranga Tamariki has been ordered to pay a former youth worker nearly $30,000 after the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ruled that she was unjustifiably dismissed.

The ERA concluded that Oranga Tamariki had not "adequately investigated" the alleged "excessive" force committed by Ioana Hill against a young person to reliably dismiss her for it.

Hill told the ERA she only used an approved restraint technique called the Train stop - where both her palms are applied to either side of the (upper) chest below the collarbone to create distance - after the young person repetitively called her a "slut."

In her second attempt at the technique, she said her hands "slipped and moved higher towards his collarbone (as he was sitting)." She admitted to her employer that her hands got a bit higher than what they should have been, and was closer to his collarbone than intended.

But she also said that she was "overcome with rage and shame" at the young person's derogatory remarks.

"I was worried that he was becoming more and more physically aggressive," Hill said in an incident report. "[He]… started to lean forward and I feared he would physically harm me so instinctively I sought to protect myself. In doing so I reactively put my hands around the top of his shoulders to push him away from me."

Oranga Tamariki's probe

But Oranga Tamariki's management relied on CCTV footage that did not have sound, nor captured the young person's behaviour against Hill.

The employer decided that there was no need for further investigation, and it would move straight to a disciplinary process, which meant no longer interviewing others involved in the case, including Hill and the staff present at the time of the incident.

It concluded that Hill committed "unnecessary use of excessive force" and summarily dismissed her by May 2021 for serious misconduct.

Unjustified dismissal

But the ERA disagreed with the steps taken and outcome presented by Oranga Tamariki in the case.

"I do not consider that Oranga Tamariki got to the point where it had adequately investigated so it could reliably make that serious finding," the ruling read. "A better decision by Oranga Tamariki would have been not to immediately proceed to dismissal when Ms Hill had just changed representatives."

The ERA also accepted that there was an element of self-defence in Hill's actions.

"Without interviews with other staff and even with the [young person], Oranga Tamariki was not in an adequate position to decide there was no self-defence element in Ms Hill's actions," the ruling read.

"I have considered whether the inadequacies identified could be seen as minor matters which did not cause unfairness to Ms Hill. That is not the case."

The ERA then ordered Oranga Tamariki to pay Hill $15,643.86 gross as lost wages and $14,000.00 as compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings."

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