The fine points of employment law

22:30, Jan 20 2013
Southland Times photo
Southland Times Work To Rule columnist Mary-Jane Thomas is a partner at Preston Russell Law.

I was never cool as a child. In fact I was quite the opposite. I had buck teeth, glasses, a number of nervous twitches, asthma and was quite religious (before it was cool to be religious), writes Mary-Jane Thomas in Work to Rule.

To say I was socially "challenged" is an understatement.

I desperately dreamed of being cool (and pretty) and unfortunately both evaded me. Never tell your child when they come home from school and tell you that they have no friends that it's OK and "it's the other kids" - unfortunately it may be them.

Adolescence did not help (when I was an adolescent it was not cool to be celibate unlike now where alleged virginity has become a marketing tool for some in the music and political scene) and I remained decidedly uncool.

In fact the first time I ever got anywhere near "cooldom" was in my late 20s when I played in a champion touch rugby team called "Dangerous Rhythm" with a whole lot of Maori boys who were not only spectacular to look at but actually spoke to me. (Thanks guys you know who you are and I am eternally grateful.)

One thing I always thought was cool was surfing. I remember as a child at Riverton looking at people just out of the surf with their wet suits half off, lounging around in the sun and just being cool - not trying to be. (There is such a big difference).


The boys would have long dreadlocked hair and the girls were toned and brown and looked popular. (Ok, I may be confusing this memory with Point Break.)

This summer I finally got to try it out. I donned the wet suit, grabbed a surf board, listened to the instructor (by the way Jess, Southland Surf School is a legend) and paddled out. I went with my friend Tania.

According to Jess I am a "charger". That means I go full steam ahead and eventually get up. Unfortunately though, I have no style or technique. Tania is the complete opposite of this. While I was merrily going as deep as I could on the first lesson to get the biggest waves, irrespective of whether I had any hope of getting up, Tania spent the first lesson in the shallows perfecting her technique. Suffice to say Tania will end up the far better surfer.

What has this got to do with employment law? Employers - when dealing with staff - you are far better to be Tania. Do not be a charger. This is difficult for personalities like me. When you are dealing with employees you need to have your technique right. You need to understand the rules, know how to use them and follow them with a degree of neurotic carefulness similar to obsessive compulsive disorder.

To see it is like surfing. While, like me, you may want to get out in the waves as quickly as possible and try to get up, the problem with that is you will invariably be dumped a number of times. I don't care about getting dumped in surfing. Part of the charger mentality is, I think, a lack of fear. But unlike surfing, in employment law getting dumped if you are an employer means ending up having to pay money for personal grievances.

* Mary-Jane Thomas is a partner at Preston Russell Law. She is always interested in ideas for articles. Email:

The Southland Times