Employment Relations Authority
agreed the employee had been a victim of workplace bullying.
Former Waimea Weekly saleswoman Janina Ewing suffered panic attacks and stress-related illness as a result of boss Steven Page’s behaviour – described as “unpredictable” by the ERA.
The 62-year-old said she felt "powerless and upset" whenever Page "lambasted" her about her performance without providing any opportunity to respond.
Page – who is the managing director of the Richmond-based paper – insisted Ewing’s stress was not work-related but the ERA agreed that he had effectively bullied her by implying she was too old or sick to do the job well.
Ewing went on to leave a document on Page’s desk explaining how his actions were impacting her mental health and morale but another manager removed the note, saying it would be better to talk to Page in person.
Member of the authority Helen Doyle said the “unusual step” of removing the letter had presented a further barrier to effective communication between the two but couldn’t account for Page’s additional actions.
After an error by the sales associate cost the paper $475, Page publicly reprimanded Ewing and deducted her pay – the following week, Ewing arrived to find her computer had been confiscated so a specialist could recover its hard drive.
When a manager informed Ewing that Page wanted to speak with her, she began to hyperventilate and had an anxiety attack – she then secured a medical certificate proving she was unfit to work due to stress but Page terminated her employment during that leave.
Doyle said the element of unpredictability in Page’s behaviour has increased stress for Ewing and ruled that she had been unjustifiably disadvantaged and dismissed.
"[His] actions included wide sweeping and generalised negative statements ... that made her feel incompetent, disempowered and with no ability to address the concerns,” said Doyle in her decision.
"To approach performance concerns in that way is the antithesis of a fair and reasonable performance process,” she added.
Ewing, who had worked at the newspaper for two years before her departure, was $30,000 in total - $30,000 - $12,000 in compensation and $18,000 in lost wages.
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