Ex-employee fined for confidentiality breach

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A man who boasted about being “paid a lot of money to leave” by his former employer has been found to have breached a confidentiality agreement.

Graeme Vivian admitted before the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to sending the message via Facebook to a former colleague – named as Mr Y – as well as others in a “tirade of abusive, offensive and abhorrent comments”.

However, he claimed that the message did not breach the confidentiality clause he signed, as it did not explicitly refer to a pay-out.

The clause instead referred to Vivan’s holiday pay and staff account credit, which he had been paid when he left Bidvest New Zealand last year.

Bidvest, a food distribution company, lodged a complaint with the ERA which claimed Vivian had breached the agreement not to disclose the terms of his settlement.

Four months after his departure, Vivian sent a Facebook message to a former colleague that said: “At least I got paid a lot of money to leave even though I was going to quit the next week.”

In his evidence, Vivian apologised for sending the message, and claimed to have deleted it and others that contained “derogatory and offensive” comments about the company and its general manager.

The ERA’s decision did not disclose the content of those messages, as the authority felt it was “not necessary … to repeat them.”

Bidvest claimed those messages contained a “tirade of abusive, offensive and abhorrent comments”.

Vivian’s message was said to have “immediately spread through the business like wildfire and has been the talking piece of many a lunch and smoko break” since being sent.

Bidvest argued that the breach had the potential to harm the company.

Vivian’s argument that the reference to “a lot of money” was about holiday pay and staff account credit was dismissed by the ERA as “highly improbable”.

The authority countered that the staff credit was worth just $49.50, and said it was “clear” the money being bragged about was significantly more than this.

The ERA concluded that Vivian had in fact been referring to the $4,500 compensation he was paid, and found that he had breached the confidentiality agreement.

Vivian was ordered to pay a penalty of $3,000, and to comply with “immediate and ongoing effect” to the confidentiality agreement.

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