A year in disputes

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From the amusing to the serious, there were plenty of employment disputes making headlines in 2013. We reflect back on those that had the nation talking.

It was the dance craze that workers across the world copied in their workplaces and uploaded their attempts online. But for two Fonterra workers it cost them their jobs. The dairy giant claimed the workers had committed serious health and safety breaches, which constituted serious misconduct and justified their summary dismissal. The pair appealed the company’s decision to fire them at the ERA and were reinstated pending a substantive hearing.

The country’s national carrier, Air New Zealand, found itself before the ERA and Employment Court this year. In September it was found to have unjustifiably dismissed a long-haul flight attendant after firing her for defying a manager’s instructions and taking leave to care for her ill sister. The case hit the headlines when it was revealed she was required to give her bosses access to her Facebook and bank accounts as part of the employment investigation.

Restraint of trade clauses also saw the carrier before the employment court with a former general manager. The manager agreed to take gardening leave for the six-month notice period after handing in his resignation to head to a competitor – but refused to comply with an additional six-month restraint clause. Air New Zealand went to the Employment Court seeking an injunction against Kerr to enforce this post-termination restraint of trade clause; however the judge ruled the six-month garden leave gave Air NZ sufficient protection and no additional protection was required through post-employment restraints.

Additionally its decision not to hire a woman who had a traditional Maori tattoo also hit the headlines.

The landmark gender equality case was allowed to continue after the Employment Court ruled women in female-dominated industries can compare themselves to men in other industries requiring similar skills when pushing for pay equality. The ruling is part of a test case between Lower Hutt aged-care worker Kristine Bartlett, supported by the Service and Food Workers Union, and her employer TerraNova Homes and Care. The ruling is only a preliminary decision and has been appealed. However, other unions have begun legal action since the ruling claiming their staff are underpaid due to gender bias.

Other amusing cases to hit the headlines include:
  • A Candyland fairy dismissed after a school holiday incident in which the candy-maker quit during a candy-making show. Jo-Anne Jarvis, who also left work early, denied allegations of abandoning her employment, refusing to wear brightly themed colours and vomiting into the melted chocolate. The ERA found in her favour ordering the company to compensate her almost $13,500 for wrongful dismissal. The Employment Court upheld the decision on appeal.
  • A naughty Santa was part of sexual harassment allegation that found its way to the ERA. A laundry worker employed by Alsco in Dunedin complained after her manager, dressed as Santa, had used a bottle opener as a "graphic and prominent phallic symbol'' at the work Christmas party. She alleged the incident was part of a pattern of sexual harassment against her. She went to the ERA citing unjustifiable dismissal after she complained. The ERZ however dismissed her allegations.
  • An Auckland Airport runway sweeper truck driver was found by the ERA to have been rightfully dismissed after he watched six hours of sport instead of responding to repeated calls to clean litter, which caused flight delays. He made a series of excuses initially for why he failed to do his job but it was soon revealed he was watching an All Blacks vs Scotland game.

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