Man fired over Facebook photos

Last updated 10:28 03/04/2013

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A Gisborne man was justifiably fired after his boss saw Facebook pictures of him at a waka ama championship when he was meant to be at home sick, a court has found.

Bruce Taiapa has lost an appeal to try and overturn an Employment Relations Authority ruling that his employer, the training institute Turanga Ararau, was within its rights to sack him in July 2011 because he misused his sick leave.

Employment Court chief judge Colgan backed up the authority's ruling in a decision released yesterday.

In March 2011, Mr Taiapa, 59, asked to take a week's leave without pay so he could attend the waka ama championships in Rotorua. He was granted only three days off because no-one was available to cover his work.

The next Monday, he called in sick, saying he had a damaged calf muscle.

Two days later, his boss saw on Facebook a picture of him at the championships. Mr Taiapa was smiling and giving the thumbs-up.

Mr Taiapa said he had gone to Rotorua with his whanau to watch teams he had coached. He then travelled to Tauranga, where his grandsons competed in a squash tournament. It was seven days before he and his whanau returned to Gisborne.

Once he returned to Gisborne, Mr Taiapa got a doctor's certificate stating that he had been unfit to work for the past week. He returned to work three days later.

After a series of discussions, manager Sharon Maynard dismissed Mr Taiapa for misusing his sick leave and misleading his employer. Ms Maynard said she had lost trust and confidence in Mr Taiapa.

Mr Taiapa's lawyers argued Turanga Ararau should not be able to dictate where Mr Taiapa recuperated from his illness.

Judge Colgan agreed there were valid reasons for a person to recuperate away from home, but this was not why Mr Taiapa had been dismissed.

Judge Colgan said if an employee's actions were inconsistent with recuperation than an employer was entitled to question whether that person is genuinely ill.

Mr Taiapa has not secured work since his dismissal in July 2011.

Contact Tracey Chatterton
Hawke's Bay reporter
Twitter: @trackchatt

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