WINZ dismissal after threats 'justified'

22:34, May 07 2012

A Work and Income New Zealand service centre manager was fired from her job after she was involved in a fight with a client at a restaurant and then threatened the client over the phone, causing her to flee her home.

Jane Drader, the WINZ Kerikeri manager, appealed to the Employment Relations Authority about her dismissal but the appeal was dismissed.

The finding from the authority reveals that the incident began on February 3, 2011 when the client came into WINZ without an appointment. She wanted to speak to a staff member about concerns she had with child care payments.

Drader told the client she was unable to address the problem but would refer it to the appropriate staff member in the Ministry of Social Development.

The following evening, a Friday night, Drader was out for dinner with her husband and another couple when she was involved in a fight with the client. Both sustained injuries with Drader suffering from a swollen face after being hit in the face with a bottle.

Drader was persuaded to leave the scene of the fight by her husband.

On the way home from the restaurant she was stopped by police and told them she wished to lay a complaint about the client.

Drader returned to work the following Monday but did not tell her supervisor of the fight until the Thursday. At the same time a complaint from the client was produced by another staff member.

In the complaint the client alleged Drader had phoned her at home on the Monday after the incident and threatened her by saying words to the effect of "you better watch yourself, the dogs are after you".

Drader admitted she had accessed confidential client records without authorisation for her own personal use, and had subsequently called the client and made threats.

It was later established the client had taken "extraordinary" steps to protect herself and her children including moving out of their home, avoiding the WINZ office and the business district of Kerikeri, the finding said.

At a meeting near the end of March the ministry signalled its intention to dismiss Drader for serious misconduct.

Drader claimed to the authority that she had suffered a disadvantage because of the Ministry's decision to suspend her from her job after the Thursday February 10 meeting. She said she was not given an opportunity to respond to the suspension.

As well she said her behaviour was out of character and she acted differently afterwards because she had had a bang on the head.

The authority found that Drader's dismissal was justified.

"The errors of judgment of which she was found guilty, which she herself admitted to, were so fundamental as to make the loss of trust and confidence in her by the Ministry a total one."