Payout over workplace bullying claim

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Last updated 12:39 04/12/2013

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A psychologist who said he was bullied at work has been paid $7500 for injury to his feelings, on top of three months' pay, after the Employment Relations Authority found he was unjustifiably dismissed.
 
Dr Paul Hirini was hired by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board in March 2009 to work in a specialist mental health service for children at Tauranga Hospital.
 
He was part of a team with five others, including a team leader, a nurse, an occupational therapist, a social worker, and a psychiatric registrar.
 
In January 2012, Hirini filed a report saying he had been bullied in the workplace.
 
The event he raised was about an opinion he gave on a case file, when he weighed in on whether the case should be referred for psychological testing.
 
He said his colleague, occupational therapist Gail Morley, was aggressive and belittling to him.

Team leader Judie Smith supported Morley, failing to stop the behaviour.
 
Hirini said in the report it was part of an overall pattern of bullying, but no other incidents were specified.
 
Around a month later, Hirini gave another report, discussing team meetings over the previous two years.
 
The allegations he made centred on Smith and Morley's behaviour.
 
However, Smith and Morley said Hirini was the bully.
 
In April, the DHB sought to meet with him to discuss their responses, but he declined the meeting because he did not understand exactly what was going to be discussed.
 
By that stage, he was so dissatisfied he had his lawyers raise a personal grievance alleging constructive dismissal.

However, he stayed in his job. He later received a letter from the DHB saying it had assessed the reports of the three staff members and could not prefer one version of events over another, and it would not start formal action.
 
By June, Smith and Morley had made more complaints about Hirini, saying he was being aggressive and intimidating.
 
He was informed he was suspended while an investigation was conducted, though the group later said he could work from home.
 
Further concerns were raised about Hirini's case management, and the DHB told him he was to have no more contact with patients until after a meeting to discuss the concerns.

Hirini then resigned.
 
ERA member Rosemary Monaghan found the DHB breached duties to Hirini because it did not properly investigate his complaint, nor did it take steps to keep him safe while the investigation was happening.
 
He was also unfairly suspended, and he did not get a chance to respond to allegations about him.

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She found his resignation was a result of the DHB's breaches, and amounted to a constructive dismissal.
 
Monaghan ordered the DHB to pay him three months' salary, and $7500 to compensate him for injury to his feelings.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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