Boozy night not enough for sacking

Last updated 16:44 15/03/2013

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A Tauranga-based air traffic tower manager sacked after a boozy night out might get her job back after her husband apologised to an Airways Corporation employee he abused when she was fired.

Michele Dumble lost her job after an alcohol-fuelled night out with two subordinates led to police being called to a Nelson hotel.

An Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision ruled that she was unfairly dismissed but made no award for compensation for "humiliation or hurt feelings".

It said the corporation did not have to reinstate her until her husband, Tauranga Airport manager Ray Dumble, "resolves" an "abusive" phone call he made as a result of the sacking.

Dumble told Fairfax Media he was happy with the ERA decision and did what "any wise person would have done" in his situation.

"I did apologise," he said.

He declined to comment on his "abusive" call to the Airways employee, but said it was "an extremely stressful time".

Airways said it was deciding whether to appeal against the decision, pointing out that the ERA had found the process fair and reasonable.

"Airways is clear that the decision to terminate was appropriate in the circumstances but accepts that the authority had a different view," it said.

In a 25-year career, Michele Dumble soared to a senior position in charge of 180 staff.

Airways grounded her after police were called to a Nelson hotel early on September 27 last year after guests in a neighbouring room complained about the noise.

Police said Dumble, who had been asleep, was unsteady on her feet, slurring her speech, "lippy" and gave a hotel worker the "finger".

The hotel complained to Airways, leading to an investigation into the conduct of the trio.

One resigned, the most junior was given a final written warning and Dumble opted to take a personal grievance, arguing disparity of treatment.

Dumble had brought Airways into disrepute and had breached company policy on alcohol consumption and credit card use, the corporation told the ERA.

She had allowed work credit cards be used to buy five bottles and four glasses of wine and a glass of beer when the limit was one glass of beer or wine.

As the senior employee, she would have been been aware that her subordinates were breaching the policy, and her alcohol consumption had prompted Airways to cancel a meeting she had been scheduled to attend at 10am after her night out.

ERA member Alastair Dumbleton found Dumble had been unjustifiably dismissed and ordered her reinstated, provided her husband's abuse of an unnamed Airways employee was addressed "to the satisfaction of that employee".

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Dumbleton found it was not reasonable for Airways service delivery boss Andy Boyd to assume Michele Dumble knew her colleagues were misusing company credit cards.

Her behaviour had not brought Airways into disrepute, as it had happened for "a very brief time in a private place away from work", he found.

While Airways was entitled to cancel the 10am meeting she had been in Nelson for, and to be concerned about the amount of alcohol downed, there was no basis on which it could be reasonably assumed she was unfit for work, the ERA said.

"No testing was done to see what levels of alcohol she had in her system some 10 hours later."

Dismissing Dumble was not what a fair and reasonable employer would have done, the ERA said, although lesser disciplinary action "could have been" justified.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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