Two Fonterra workers who were fired for participating in the contagious “Harlem Shake” trend are to be temporarily reinstated thanks to an Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision released yesterday.
Fonterra had summarily dismissed the workers after discovering videos on YouTube of them doing their own version of the viral dance at the Takanini plant.
The pair appealed the company’s decision to terminate their employment at the ERA.
Fonterra claimed that the workers had committed serious health and safety breaches, which constituted serious misconduct and justified their summary dismissal.
The company claimed that one of the workers rode equipment in an unsafe manner, putting himself and others at risk, as well as failing to report the unsafe acts of others. The other was guilty, according to Fonterra, of putting himself and others at risk by organising the videos and by dancing with a shovel between his legs and hosing water where another was dancing. He too, failed to report the unsafe acts of others.
However, ERA member T G Tetitaha disagreed with Fonterra’s account.
“Their individual actions do not seem factually similar to the facts alleged in the respondent’s authorities. Hosing an area of floor then cleaning the water up prior to employees dancing around indicates preventative steps to ensure employee safety. Falling or tipping the paper trolley may have resulted in minimal (if any) injury or damage or none at all,” Tetitaha wrote.
“Neither of the applicants conduct necessarily had the potential for the serious injury contemplated in the respondent’s authorities,” he added.
Because of this, and because there was no evidence that their reinstatement would have a detrimental impact upon Fonterra’s health and safety reputation, Tetitaha decided to order their temporary reinstatement pending a substantive hearing.