Immigration blue costs firm $50,000
A company director has been ordered to pay out a former employee whom she fired after acting on information she received from Immigration New Zealand – which turned out to be false.
Although Immigration NZ admitted there was a human error involved in the case, it has never apologised to the business owner who was forced to fork out more than $50,000 to fight a claim of unjustified dismissal.
Ngaire Reid fired Nicholas Boer from Reid Research Services, a market research company, in April last year after speaking to an Immigration New Zealand call centre. An operator told her that Boer was not legally allowed to be working for her because he was listed as working for another company on an interim work visa.
"Technically he shouldn't be working at all," the call centre employee said.
Asked what would happen if Boer continued to work for Reid, the Immigration staffer said: "You'll technically be breaking the law because he doesn't have a current work visa."
Reid then terminated Boer's contract. She said she was fearful of acting illegally and did not want to face a fine for continuing to employ him. But she did not talk with Boer about this and instead just sent him a termination letter.
"I'm not sure that this is a situation that anybody had come across before," Reid told the Sunday Star-Times. "Here is an authority saying that it is unlawful for you to employ him."
But it turned out Immigration made a mistake, later admitting it had incorrectly recorded information about Boer into its systems which led to the mistake.
Boer filed a personal grievance to the Employment Relations Authority which ruled that Reid did not undertake an investigation into whether the information from Immigration was correct and terminated Boer's contract without notice.
It said Reid should pay out more than $10,000 in lost wages and distress compensation. Reid's legal bills mean the total cost is in excess of $50,000. It is understood Boer received legal aid.
Immigration has said the mistake was the result of human error and "lessons had been learned from the case". It has apologised to Boer. But it has not apologised to Reid or her company.
Despite Reid twice confirming the information with Immigration there had been no apology to her.
"If I make an error in my business I put it right," she said. "There was no communication to me. Even though the manager admitted there had been an error he didn't come up and pat me on the back and say `I'm really sorry Ngaire'."
An Immigration spokesperson told the Sunday Star-Times: "These errors however are rare and INZ has a series of processes and checks in place to minimise their occurrence. We have apologised to the applicant [Boer] and are very sorry for the initial mistake that led to the confusion."
Reid told the Star-Times that Immigration had been "diabolical" to deal with and the authority's decision "stunned" her. Reid said the payout was a huge cost in difficult economic times. She was considering appealing the ruling but the cost might make it impossible.
- © Fairfax NZ News