Vodafone employee sacked for Samoan slurs

16:00, Nov 17 2011

Vodafone NZ acted properly in sacking a call centre worker who was seen ignoring a business call and who sent inappropriate emails to staff and friends while using a workplace email address, the Employment Relations Authority has found.

In a just-released ruling, the authority dismissed Papataia Toleafoa's personal grievance appeal over being dismissed from her customer service role in February.

In January, she was found to have sent an email from her work address telling a friend she was going home early.

''I'm off home, coz I've told my pule that I'm going home coz I'm stressed. Aoooo, fia ki'o more like it.'

"Pule" meant boss and ''fia ki'o'' translated into ''going for a s**t'', the authority said in its ruling.

In another email to the friend she referred to her boss in Samoan terms for "dickhead" and "f***wit".

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She also asked in an email to three staff members, if they thought another of the staff ''talks like a cow chewing on grass''.

The authority said the company's inquiry into Toleafoa's behaviour began after she sent a group email to 200 co-workers about union membership.

In the emails she encouraged staff to join the Unite union and challenged a manager's comments about whether or not improvements to staff conditions resulted from union negotiations.

She was told by her manager not to send bulk emails to staff from her work address for non-business purposes.

While under investigation, she was seen ignoring a business call at her workstation so she could make a personal call.

The Authority found ''no satisfactory explanation'' in her evidence as to why she could not have waited until a scheduled break or told her supervisor she needed to make an urgent call.

Toleafoa told the authority the call was to her husband about a family event on the weekend.

The emails with derogatory comments about staff were discovered during the investigation by Vodafone management following a meeting with Toleafoa.

In January she emailed two cousins and her sister about getting into trouble at work and asking for their advice.

In February, responding to an email from Vodafone asking for volunteers for a project, Toleafoa responded ''mayb a payrise wld b better? Ooopos, better be careful, they'l pull my email and take it the wrong way''.  

Toleafoa protested that the later emails were personal and her union representatives described them as private conversations including ''throw away comments'' and that company policy allowed employees to send personal emails.

In its ruling, the authority said that whatever Toleafoa might choose to say about her managers in genuinely private situations, ''she took the risk of disciplinary [action] when she made derogatory comments about them during working hours and while using Vodafone NZ's own technology and resources".

The language used by Toleafoa in the emails justified the company's finding of misconduct, the authority said.

- Fairfax NZ