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Dismissal over texts unjustified

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 14:03 04/08/2014

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A Northland man who began a relationship with his boss's daughter and inappropriately texted her friend has been found to have been unjustifiably fired.

The drama unfolded at the small family-owned firm in Kamo in 2011 when Ngunguru man Brendon Booth was hired.

He was quickly promoted to group general manager. Soon after he began a relationship with his boss' daughter, 17 years his junior, who also worked at the company. It wasn't long before they moved in together and became serious.

Booth's boss was never happy with the relationship and thought the age difference was too great.

During this time Booth's partner found other employment, but introduced him to one of her friends, who had just finished tertiary study and was looking for work. This woman was hired and reported directly to Booth.

The three spent time together at Booth's home. On one occasion she stayed the night as she had drunk too much to drive home.

About a year later, when Booth's partner moved out and decided to end the relationship, a series of inappropriate text messages between Booth and the partner's friend led to his dismissal.

In these messages he asked her to come to his place and console him as he needed a friend after the breakup. She turned him down, saying she felt uncomfortable.

Once the texts became known in the workplace, Booth's boss went to his house and handed him a suspension letter. The letter set out allegations of serious misconduct.

A disciplinary meeting was held in which the text messages between Booth and the second woman were discussed as well as questions raised about his intentions with her.

He was told he would be dismissed from the company.

Booth took his grievance to the Employment Relations Authority, which rejected his claim.

However, in a decision this month from the Employment Court, he was found to have been hard done by.

After looking at the evidence afresh, Employment Court judge Christina Inglis overruled the ERA's earlier decision and granted Booth $10,000 in compensation and just under $49,000 in lost wages.

The judge ordered Booth's compensation be reduced by 35 per cent to allow for his own contribution to the matter.

Judge Inglis said the dismissal process was flawed. Booth's boss was ill-equipped to conduct the investigative and disciplinary process given the strong views he held about the relationship, she said.

"This is reflected in the failure to, for example, obtain a statement from [the second woman] at an earlier stage, to ask additional questions of her about the nature of her relationship with Booth and the context of the text message exchange, the pre-emptory manner in which the suspension was dealt with and the evidence relating to the jaundiced way in which Booth's responses were considered."

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It was not acknowledged by the defendant that Booth had accepted his actions had been unwise and reflected an error of judgment, she said. 

- Stuff

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