Cancer-stricken worker gets $33k
A Waikato office manager has been awarded more than $30,000 in damages after it was found she was unfairly dismissed following an extended leave of absence while she battled cancer.
Former Te Awamutu Residential Trust employee Selena Horne was awarded just over $33,000 by the Employment Relations Authority after it was found her redundancy was neither "fair and just" nor "genuine".
In his report, ERA member James Crichton said the Employment Relations Authority found the Te Awamutu Residential Trust, which gives living support to people with intellectual disabilities, was "both too hasty and fail[ed] absolutely the obligations in respect of consultation" in the decision to make Ms Horne redundant.
It was the eighth time the trust had been to the Employment Relations Authority since 2004, four times as the applicant and four times as the respondent.
Mrs Horne had been working as the trust's office manager for three years when she was diagnosed with cancer in May 2010.
Needing "three or four months" off from July for major surgery and chemotherapy, Ms Horne arranged for another woman, a trust member at that time, Moira Fox, to take over her workload.
There was a conflict of opinions on how clearly Ms Horne explained the duties to Ms Fox, but when Ms Horne returned to work part-time in October 2010 she found "the shop had not been minded while she was away".
The annual accounts were not ready for audit as she had expected, nor had there been any financial reports made to the trust's board during the period that she was on sick leave.
Mr Crichton said Ms Horne's subsequent anxiety and depression and return to fulltime sick leave that November was directly linked to the trust's failure "to address the deficits it identified in the performance of Ms Horne's role while she was on sick leave".
When Ms Horne attempted to return to work again in late February/early March 2011, she was, after a series of unsatisfactory meetings, replaced by Ms Fox, who was at that time sitting on the board that was discussing Ms Horne's position, while competing for the role herself.
Mr Crichton found that Ms Horne was unjustifiably dismissed and directed the trust to pay her $8000 as compensation, $25,000 as a contribution to lost wages and the $72 filing fee.
It was unknown whether the trust would contest the ruling. Neither Ms Horne or her former manager Vanessa Plunkett were available for comment.