Compensation for snap-happy bus driver

A Riwaka bus driver fired for taking photos of schoolchildren has been awarded $8500 in compensation.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has ruled that John Grant was unjustifiably dismissed by Hebberd Bus Services, where he worked as a bus driver taking children to Riwaka School.

Last August, Grant took a camera with him on the bus as he said he wanted to take a photo of himself with the bus.

When the children on the bus saw the camera they ''became excited'' and asked if they could take photos. Grant allowed them to take pictures of themselves.

Some of the children told their parents about the photos being taken and complaints were made to the bus company by parents, Riwaka school and the board of trustees.

Hebberd's rules for bus drivers, which Grant was aware of, state that drivers should not talk to children unless there "is a need for behavioural reasons''.

Grant was not made aware of the details of the complaints and was suspended without pay.

While on suspension, Grant received a letter from bus company owner Maurice Hebberd saying it was his second to last warning and that next time he would be dismissed.

''As you are aware you have been taking photos of the children on your bus and giving the children your camera to take photos of themselves for you. This is a very serious concern to me and my company ... This must stop now and you are to have no contact with the children you transport on your bus,'' the letter read.

In September, Grant was taken off suspension and returned to work for his usual morning bus run.

When he returned that morning, Grant was given a copy of a letter from Riwaka School acting principal Megan Strong and dismissed.

''It has been brought to my attention that the bus driver who inappropriately took photos of some of our students is back driving the Kaiteriteri run,''  Strong's letter read.

She asked that either the driver be supervised while around primary school pupils or ''removed from any Riwaka School run altogether''.

ERA member Dzintra King ruled that Grant's suspension and the dismissal were not justifiable and had been ''procedurally flawed''.

Grant was never given a chance to provide an explanation for the photography incident and Hebberd said he had not conducted an investigation as "the matter was clear".

''It is very unfortunate that a number of people appear to have reached conclusions based on inadequate evidence,'' King's decision said.

''I am satisfied that while Mr Grant's actions in taking the camera on to the bus and then allowing schoolchildren to use it were foolish, he did not act with any untoward of maleficent motivation.''

Grant was awarded $8500 in compensation, $3080 in holiday pay, $309 as reimbursement for being unjustifiably suspended and $2618 for being unjustifiably dismissed from his job.

King deducted 15 per cent of the remedies as ''Grant should have not interacted with the children''.

The Press