Firing after deer deaths was unjustified

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2013

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A former Mt Hutt farm worker has been awarded more than $12,000 after he was fired following a disease outbreak that killed more than two dozen deer.

Michael Cracroft-Wilson worked as an assistant manager for the Mt Hutt Station deer farm for two years before he was fired in June 2011.

In a ruling released yesterday, the Employment Relations Authority said Cracroft-Wilson had been sacked by station manager Bruce Hood after an outbreak of yersinia, a disease that can kill young deer if left untreated.

In May 2011, Hood told Cracroft-Wilson to drench two mobs of young deer, despite his concerns about poor weather that could have increased their vulnerability to disease.

Nearly two weeks after the drenching, Cracroft-Wilson found five dead fawns while feeding the deer and left a message with Hood asking him to look at the carcasses to determine how they had died.

After checking the deer and determining that they had died from yersinia, Hood left a message with Cracroft-Wilson asking him to check on the rest of the mob.

Cracroft-Wilson told the authority that he had done a drive-by check to avoid stressing the deer, and he did not notice any further dead animals or unusual behaviour.

Hood's father checked on the deer several days later and found "fresh carcasses" with signs of yersinia, with 24 dead animals eventually collected.

Later in May, Hood invited Cracroft-Wilson to a disciplinary meeting, describing his failure to prevent the deaths as "serious misconduct that may justify summary dismissal".

After further meetings and exchanges, Cracroft-Wilson was given a letter by a Mt Hutt Station employment advocate saying he was being fired for "a serious breach of trust and confidence that we had in you".

The authority found Cracroft-Wilson should have been given a warning and been allowed to take "remedial steps" as outlined in his employment agreement, rather than being dismissed.

The station should not have assumed he had extensive knowledge of yersinia, it ruled, as he had been largely excluded from the process after a similar outbreak in 2010.

It found no evidence that Hood had allowed Cracroft-Wilson to respond to the issue of trust and confidence, despite citing it as a key reason for his dismissal, and awarded Cracroft-Wilson $7307 for lost wages and another $5000 as compensation.

A counterclaim by Mt Hutt Station for more than $20,000 was dismissed.

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- The Press

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