Christchurch rebuild manager unfairly sacked

A piling manager recruited from England and sacked in his first 90 days has won nearly $40,000 from his Christchurch employer.

Andrew Hall started with Smith Crane and Construction in January but was fired on April 1 due to concerns about his competence.

Employment Relations Authority Christine Hickey awarded Hall $31,326 in lost remuneration, $7000 for humiliation and $766 reimbursement for variation of work visa costs. Hall was earning $145,000 a year.

He had claimed about $55,000 plus legal costs.

To justify the sacking, Smith Crane relied on a 90-day trial period clause contained in an individual employment contract attached to a letter offering employment which was sent to Hall while he was still in England.

Hall signed and returned the offer of employment but did not sign the agreement until February 11.

Hickey ruled the 90-day clause was invalid because the Employment Contracts Act said such provisions could not be imposed on existing employees.

Hall and Smith Crane had not signed the individual employment contract before Hall began his job. By the time he signed the contract, he was an existing employee.

The authority was told Hall found the dismissal letter on his desk when he returned from a medical appointment. He was given one week's notice.

Hickey said Hall was not told "specifically" he was in danger of losing his job because of concerns about his ability and given no opportunity to explain and improve. Therefore Smith Crane had unfairly dismissed him.

In awarding remedies, Hickey could not, she said, take into account the fact Hall's wife had decided not to join him in New Zealand and ended their 22-year marriage after he lost his job.

Hall is now working in Auckland as a project manager.

Tim Smith, managing director of Smith Crane and Construction, said the decision would be appealed to the Employment Court.

The Press