Chamber cleared of unjustified dismissal

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 11:54 25/06/2013

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A former Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce employee thanked the organisation for its support before unsuccessfully suing for unjustified dismissal.

Former training and development manager Susan Steadman told the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) that the chamber had failed to act in good faith, had not provided a safe workplace, and acted so intolerably that she had been forced to leave.

In his report, ERA member James Crichton rejected all the complaints, saying chamber had been "starved of information" and had done all it could to support Steadman.

Two days before the February 22, 2011, earthquake, Steadman fell off her horse and was knocked unconscious. She went to work the next day, but took ill and went home. She was still at home when the earthquake hit.

In March she visited a doctor for the first time and was diagnosed with concussion. That later developed into post-concussion syndrome.

The GP told her to reduce her hours of work. She then told her employer for the first time how serious her health problems were'.

She was told to work just two hours a day for a month before returning to full duties, but that extended to months of gradually increasing hours. That was accommodated by the chamber.

However, Crichton said the information Steadman had given the chamber was "anything but fulsome".

Steadman believed the chamber had inadequately judged her ability to work after the accident, while the chamber said it had been given limited information on the injury and its effects.

Meanwhile, the February quake badly damaged the chamber's city office and the organisation set up a temporary area at chief executive Peter Townsend's home. It also allowed some staff , including Steadman, to work from home.

Several disputes arose between the organisation and Steadman about the temporary office. Steadman was also involved in disagreements with another staff member she believed to be insubordinate.

After a few months a "cordial and supportive" meeting was held to address the problems, but in August Steadman resigned.

"What is more, the terms of Ms Steadman's resignation included a glowing thank you for the support she had received from the chamber."

She then filed a personal grievance with the Employment Relations Authority.

Crichton said Steadman, unrealistically, expected the chamber to continue on a "business as usual basis".

"In the authority's considered view, the chamber did everything it could to try to manage Ms Steadman's personal needs while continuing to provide its members with some sort of service in the most difficult of circumstances.

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"The authority is satisfied that the chamber was always starved of information about what could reasonably be expected of Ms Steadman from a medical point of view."

The chamber had believed Steadman would be cleared for full return after a month, while the doctor had prescribed a gradual return to work.

"It had no idea how unwell she plainly was," Crichton said.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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