A worker, who was fired after his boss saw Facebook photos of him at a waka ama championship when he was meant to be at home sick, faces bankruptcy if hit up for legal costs.
Bruce Taiapa, of Gisborne, must pay his former employer, Turanga Ararau, $12,315 after he took the training institute to the Employment Relations Authority. It ruled the institute was entitled to sack him because he misused his sick leave. He appealed to the Employment Court, and lost that appeal.
He was unable to work, as his health had suffered, leaving him with little means of paying the costs, he told the Employment Court.
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 because no cover was available. The next Monday, he called in sick, saying he had a damaged calf muscle.
Two days later, his boss saw a picture of him on Facebook at the championships. Mr Taiapa was smiling and giving the thumbs-up.
Mr Taiapa got a doctor's certificate stating he had been unfit to work for that week. He was dismissed for misusing his sick leave.
He has not paid any of the $4600 already awarded to Turanga Ararau. He offered to pay $10 a week, which would take him more than 20 years to pay the full debt.
Employment Court judge Graeme Colgan said Mr Taiapa could face bankruptcy if Turanga Ararau enforced the costs awarded.
Mr Taiapa's lawyer said that, even if his client borrowed against a house he owned, he would struggle to make repayments without affecting family members he supported.
The judge awarded costs to the institute on the basis that Mr Taiapa had access to funds. He directed both parties to undertake further mediation to discuss alternative means of payment, such as a lump payment and community service.
If a settlement could not be reached within three months, Mr Taiapa would be directed to pay the costs. Mr Taiapa could not be reached for comment yesterday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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