Mechanic fired for putting family first wins employment case

David Bangs said the dismissal caused him to lose his passion for being a mechanic, which was something he had wanted to ...

David Bangs said the dismissal caused him to lose his passion for being a mechanic, which was something he had wanted to do since he was a teenager (file photo).

A Rotorua mechanic who was fired from a Nissan Suzuki dealership for needing time off to care for his sick family has been awarded $15,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and hurt feelings.

David Bangs alleged he was forced to quit in August 2016 because he would be fired if he took any more time off work, even though his wife had serious ongoing health issues and they had three children under the age of 7.

Bangs was described as a "man of few words", but said the dismissal caused him to lose his passion for being a mechanic, which was something he had wanted to do since he was a teenager, according to the Auckland Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision. 

In the decision, released in April, the authority found Sue Johnstone of Grant Johnstone Nissan Suzuki unjustly dismissed Bangs.

Bangs worked as a service technician at the Rotorua Nissan dealership from September 2015 until he resigned in August 2016. 

Bangs resigned at the request of Johnstone. He claimed Johnstone would dismiss him if he did not resign and then would not give him a reference. 

Johnstone had given Bangs two warnings for sick absences, one when his mother was in the ICU and another when Bangs had called in sick but later went to work at Johnstone's request, according to the ERA decision. 

Johnstone said the warnings were a "wake-up call with no teeth" and an attempt to get Bangs to "consider his situation and consider getting help". 

A family representative from the Bangs family said Bangs had five days off in a row for gastroenteritis. He was about to go to the emergency department when he was told to come to work,  which he did, that day, "spewing and vomiting".

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A letter from Bangs' attorney said he had taken 30 days' sick or domestic leave out of a total 230 work days. 

The family representative from the Bangs family said all but five of those days were unpaid.

"Dave wouldn't have taken that time off work unless he really needed to ... there were very extenuating circumstances why he needed that amount of time off work."

The family representative said Bangs' wife was undergoing chemotherapy and had several surgeries during that time, and his mother had been in the ICU that year as well.

"There was no support from Sue whatsoever, she never asked how we were, she never cared about our well-being, nothing like that."

ERA authority Rachel Larmer said the two warnings for a "genuine sickness absence" were unjustified and targeted.

"He took sick leave from his work to look after his sick family in circumstances where there was no-one else available to care for them," Larmer said. 

Larmer said Bangs was open about the reasons he needed leave and shared medical information he was not legally required to share, but he did it to ensure Johnstone was fully informed of what was going on.

Bangs was granted distress compensation in part because of Johnstone's "inappropriate" actions during his notice period.

Johnstone turned up unannounced in an alleged attempt to "catch him out" while Bangs was caring for his sick child and phoned his wife to quiz her about her health, her children's health and why she couldn't have left work instead of having her husband care for their sick child.

Johnstone denied her visit was to "catch Mr Bangs" and said it was to see if she could offer help and if Bangs would withdraw his resignation.

Bangs told the ERA he could no longer work in the industry because he was concerned about what Johnstone would say about him to prospective employers, especially in a community as small as Rotorua. 

After his dismissal, he found work as an independent contractor painter and decorator for his father's business in January, and took over his wife and her friend's firewood business. He claimed lost remuneration for the 19 weeks of unemployment he faced between work as a mechanic and an independent contractor. 

Johnstone was ordered to pay $15,000 for the humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings Bangs suffered as a result of the unjustified dismissal.

Johnstone failed to respond to requests for comment.

 - Stuff

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