Could Heather du Plessis-Allan take action after MediaWorks exit?

Presenter Heather Du Plessis Allan.

Presenter Heather Du Plessis Allan.

Experts say the handling of Heather du Plessis-Allan's exit from MediaWorks mean she could have grounds to to hit back at the broadcaster.

MediaWorks reportedly ordered du Plessis-Allan off air this week, for comments she made in an interview about her leaving the company.

But Wellington-based employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk says MediaWorks' response to the interview could be seen as harsh, or using "a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

Heather du Plessis-Allan, has been let go from her current role as co-host of TV3's new current affairs show Story.
David White

Heather du Plessis-Allan, has been let go from her current role as co-host of TV3's new current affairs show Story.

In the interview with NZME, du Plessis-Allan revealed she was leaving MediaWorks, that she hadn't told her co-host Duncan Garner she was quitting TV, and claimed the pair knew in July that Story would be axed.

It is understood an email was sent to MediaWorks staff by news chief Hal Crawford stating that there were "inaccuracies" in du Plessis-Allan's interview, and that the decision to discontinue Story was only taken recently.

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TV3's Story presenter Heather du Plessis-Allan announced her plans to quit MediaWorks and television.

TV3's Story presenter Heather du Plessis-Allan announced her plans to quit MediaWorks and television.

"I can confirm Heather is leaving MediaWorks. I am not requiring that she work out her notice period and therefore she will not appear on air for the remainder of Story or her Radio Live show," he wrote.

Heather du Plessis-Allan has declined to comment on the matter when contacted this morning. 

Hornsby-Geluk, a partner with Dundas Street Employment Lawyers, said employees were entitled to talk about their employment as long as they didn't disclose confidential information or make misleading comments.

"In this instance, the concern seems to be that the information she provided was not accurate, and the employer is entitled to take action if somebody makes comments in the public arena which are not accurate and which could potentially impact the company's image or reputation, which I think the comments did do.

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"Looking at the broader picture you would have to say was MediaWorks actually damaged by this? Did it adversely impact on their image and reputation? Clearly they think it did, but that would have to be the test they'd have to establish.

"Having said that, at a more personal level, it appears that what she was actually trying to do was to position her own situation in a positive light, and arguably the employer could have taken a more generous interpretation of her actions."

Hornsby-Geluk said the company needed to be aware that making an internal statement to staff about another employee's exit, could result in grounds for a personal grievance.

"It could have caused a significant amount of damage to her image and reputation also, so if they haven't got pretty robust grounds for that, then she could potentially have a personal grievance."

Hornsby-Geluk said the decision to remove someone from the air so quickly wasn't necessarily unusual.

"We've seen that organisation make some fairly extreme decisions, and media generally can be quite cut-throat, but I am quite surprised at how publicly this has played out."

Port Nicholson Chambers Barrister Andrew Scott-Howman said that if MediaWorks were basing taking du Plessis-Allan off-air due to "inaccuracies" in her interview, there would be a wise process to go through.

"For them to say that, it would be very wise for them to have concluded an investigation that she has participated in, so she has had a chance of establishing whether or not they were inaccurate statements. Because if they haven't actually determined that, and she's got a different view, she could say that her reputation's been damaged, and it could be the basis of a claim that she might bring against MediaWorks."

Scott-Howman said such public exits were not unusual in media, simply because of the public-facing nature of the industry.

"Even if all of this had been handled amicably and behind closed doors, I will turn on my TV tonight and not see her and ask whats happened. Is she sick? Has something gone down?

"And quite often anybody with a public face will make sure they front-foot something like this by explaining it before the public fills the vacuum with a whole lot of conspiracy theories, so no, it doesn't surprise me bit. It is unfortunate."

He said the incident could reflect a trend happening in New Zealand regarding aggrieved employees and the "WikiLeaks generation".

"Nowadays, we are very keen in New Zealand on this concept of bringing the employer into disrepute, which is something that is more prominent than it has been in the past, because of social media basically."

MediaWorks said it would not be commenting further beyond what it said on Monday night.


 - Stuff

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