Woman dismissed on maternity leave

MICHAEL FOREMAN
Last updated 15:25 20/01/2014

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Food manufacturer and importer Delmaine Fine Foods has been ordered to pay a former employee more than $36,000 after it unjustifiably dismissed her while she was on maternity leave.

The Employment Relations Authority heard that Katherine Ledger joined Delmaine as national key account manager (Foodstuffs) in Auckland in February 2011.

In December of that year, Ledger advised her manager of her pregnancy and her intention to take maternity leave.

The following April, Ledger applied in writing for seven months' parental leave from July 2012 until January 2013.

While Delmaine had confirmed verbally that her position would be kept open for her, Ledger said, the company did not provide written notification, as it was required to do under the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act (PLEPA).

While Ledger was on maternity leave her responsibilities were covered by her manager and an employee based in Wellington.

Ledger said her manager had told her in a phone conversation on December 17, 2012, that the management of the Foodstuffs account was proceeding well in her absence and that Delmaine had decided that her position was no longer required.

Delmaine said in two letters, dated December 29 and 30, 2012, that the disestablishment of Ledger's role had been brought about by the economic downturn.

Delmaine said Ledger was fully consulted and a decision was not made regarding redundancy until the end of a meeting on December 21, when Ledger decided she did not want to return to work in January to continue further discussions.

Authority member Eleanor Robinson found that despite Delmaine's claims that economic reasons had prompted the redundancy, no financial records or projected cost savings had been provided to Ledger or the authority to support that position.

Robinson said it was evident from Delmaine's evidence that the need for Delmaine to improve efficiency in the light of the difficult economic climate had been the case since 2010, which was before the decision to appoint Ledger.

It was therefore unclear to the authority exactly why Ledger's position had become untenable, particularly as there had been no indication to Ledger that the economic climate had significantly worsened Delmaine's financial situation during the period of her appointment.

Robinson found that Delmaine had failed to follow a fair and proper process and that Ledger had been unjustifiably dismissed.

Ledger was awarded lost wages of $19,230 and $15,000 for hurt and humiliation.

Delmaine was also ordered to pay Ledger $2000 for failing to keep her position open as agreed when parental leave was granted and failing to consider redeployment options as required by the PLEPA. Costs were reserved.

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- Fairfax Media

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