Woman gets compo for unfair dismissal

Last updated 13:00 13/02/2014

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A former Nelson early childhood centre manager has been awarded $27,000 in compensation and lost wages after she was found to have been unjustifiably dismissed.

The Employment Relations Authority ruled that Ngapare Jay's employers at the Manuka Early Learning Centre, operated by the Manuka Community House in Wainui St, had failed to properly and fairly investigate allegations against her, and her dismissal was "both procedurally and substantively unjustified".

Mrs Jay was sacked as centre manager and head teacher in July last year after the centre licensee Nadia Packer upheld allegations that she bullied a staff member and was responsible for timekeeping discrepancies. Mrs Jay denied the claims.

She also denied allegations from another staff member that she had left a child in solitary confinement on two occasions.

The centre later advised her it was not pursuing that investigation, but Mrs Jay was to undergo performance management compliance training.

Authority member Helen Doyle found the investigation into timekeeping - centred around records signed off by Mrs Jay of time spent teaching or in administration - was inadequate and unfair.

She found that covert surveillance of Mrs Jay's daily tasks by another staff member was an attempt to demonstrate "that by virtue of repeated activity the matter was more serious".

There was no suggestion that Mrs Jay would benefit from any incorrect records of on and off-floor times, or that incorrect funding claims had been made to the Ministry of Education.

"A full and fair investigation could have led to a conclusion that Mrs Jay did not know and/or was careless about signing off the records to reflect any period off floor," Ms Doyle said.

"Objectively assessed I do not conclude that the conduct in relation to the time keeping discrepancies was conduct that a fair and reasonable employer could in all the circumstances conclude amounted to serious misconduct."

The allegation of bullying centred on a one-off incident involving a discussion between Mrs Jay and a teacher. Mrs Jay denied saying the teacher should no longer be in her position.

Ms Doyle said she considered a reasonable employer could not have concluded the interaction between the pair amounted to serious misconduct.

In her finding, she also referred to a flyer sent to parents of children at the centre after Mrs Jay's dismissal that made damaging and untrue statements about her, including a suggestion that child safety was an issue.

The authority took that into account when awarding Mrs Jay $10,800 in compensation for loss of dignity and humiliation. It also awarded her $16,875 in lost wages.

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