Employment lawyer Andy Bell
says there’s certainly potential for problems to arise – particularly if the MediaWorks made any new hires after that time.
“A statement from du Plessis-Allan to the effect that she was aware of the impending cancellation of Story could be difficult for human resources if hires were made on the understanding of ongoing open tenure employment and redundancies were necessary in respect of those engagements,” he explains.
According to Bell – a principal at Wellington-based law firm Bell & Co
– MediaWorks could be vulnerable to several arguments.
“Those arguments could point to du Plessis-Allan’s statement to support the proposition that the hires were made knowing that termination by redundancy was contemplated within a short time frame,” he explains.
“This would call into question the reasonableness of redundancy pursuant to the test in the Employment Relations Act 2000. Further, it could be argued as a breach of the obligation of good faith.”
Bell also pointed to an Employment Court case – Brake v Grace Team Accounting Limited – in which a “novel but powerful argument” was made.
“That argument was an employer was ‘estopped’ from termination,” says Bell. “This means an employer should not be able to depart from an offer of permanent employment within a short period of time, particularly where at the time of the hire, the circumstances that might lead to redundancy were known or should have been known.”
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Earlier this week, Story host Heather du Plessis-Allan was ordered off air after claiming she’d known the show was doomed since July – but could her comments have caused serious issues for HR?