The Employment Relations Authority has ruled a former oil company worker must pay almost $2600 over disparaging comments she posted on Facebook about her former employer.
The ERA heard that in May 2013 Kristel McLeod received a "substantial" settlement during an employment dispute with Kea Petroleum Holdings Ltd. As part of her settlement she signed an agreement in which she would not “not disparage or speak ill of the company... or its Officers”
However in March this year she posted a 500-word article about the business on her company Facebook page – which was open to the public to view - and said the company's managing director Richard Parkes had made "false statements". She made a second post in April.
The company's finance director Peter Wright told the ERA the article was able to be viewed on Facebook for three months and had also been published on an international bulletin board before it was removed.
Wright said it had been difficult to assess what, if any, harm McLeod’s statements have had on Kea, but that he was notified by at one shareholder that the article had been published on an international bulletin board that provides information updates on the oil and gas industry. He said the posts gave cause for the company's shareholders to lose trust in it.
McLeod did not attend the ERAs investigation meeting or lodge a statement of reply, she did however send an email asseting she had not said anything “untruthful” and had since deleted the offending posts. She followed this with another email that she regretted her actions and wanted to now “move on”
Authority member Michele Ryan ruled that the evidence provided to the ERA showed a pattern of breaches to the settlement agreement which she found to be intentional and deliberate.
“Even if Ms McLeod did genuinely regard her statements as accurate and true, there is nothing contained in clause 6 of the settlement agreement which exempts disparaging remarks about the
Company and/or Mr Parkes on those grounds,” Ryan said.
She added that settlement agreements under s.149 of the Act provide an effective methodology for parties to resolve their differences and that it was important for parties to be assured that arrangements made pursuant to s.149 are adhered to, and that there are consequences if they are not.
“In all the circumstances I find it is appropriate to impose a penalty against Ms McLeod to reflect condemnation of her actions and to dissuade her from engaging in further action which breaches the settlement agreement between her and Kea,” Ryan said.
She ordered McLeod pay a $2000 penalty and to reimburse Kea's costs of $539.06.