A teacher was unjustifiably sacked by an English-language school after students wrongly accused her of giving them exam answers, the Employment Relations Authority has ruled.
However, the cheating students had actually used smart phones to photograph an answer sheet left on the teacher's desk while she was briefly out of the room, the authority (ERA) said.
In a finding released today, the authority awarded teacher Robyn Voss $2500 for hurt feelings because her employer wrongly dismissed her.
Regent International Education Group employed Voss as a programme leader on a fixed-term contract last year, and she taught a leadership paper to about 20 international students.
The entire class failed an exam in July 2013, so were asked to re-sit the test.
Voss went over the first failed exam paper with the students before they sat the second exam, the ERA report said.
During the lesson she was called away to another classroom for about 10 minutes.
While she was gone, the students took advantage of her absence to photograph the marking schedule using their smartphones, the ERA said.
When the students re-sat the exam later in the month, which was based on answers from the first failed test, the teacher became suspicious.
Voss found very similar answers to the first exam marking schedule.
Regent International Education Group director Leo Lee became involved and held a meeting with one of the students accused of cheating, the ERA said.
At first the student claimed Voss had read out the answers during class but then admitted students had photographed the answers.
The following day Lee held a disciplinary meeting with Voss over the matter.
Voss disputed that "a student rifling through your papers while you are temporarily helping another student" was serious misconduct, the ERA said.
However, Voss was fired in August 2013, a day after the disciplinary meeting.
In its finding, ERA member Tania Tetitaha found students had a motivation to point the finger at Voss to deflect their own blame for being caught cheating.
Voss's employer also failed to give her enough opportunity to respond to criticisms, Tetitaha said.
"The ad hoc manner in which concerns were raised did not provide Ms Voss with a reasonable opportunity to respond prior to dismissal," she said.
The authority ordered Regent International Education Group to pay the teacher $2500 in compensation.