Employment Relations Authority orders Tokaanu-Turangi RSA to pay former employee $27k

Two years ago, Leila McLeod accused an executive member at her workplace of discrimination and bullying. Two weeks later she was dismissed.

Now the Employment Relations Authority has ruled McLeod was unjustifiably dismissed and unjustifiably disadvantaged at work and ordered her former employer, Tokaanu-Turangi and Districts Memorial RSA Incorporated, to pay her $27,639.65.

Details of the case were outlined in an authority decision released to the Rotorua Daily Post.

McLeod was employed by the RSA as a club manager from June 2016 until her dismissal in October 2019. She managed the bar, gaming area and staff. She provided monthly reports to the executive committee, the decision said.

At a committee meeting on September 19, 2019, McLeod raised a personal grievance in writing for unjustified action causing disadvantage.

She claimed an executive member of the club had performed unjustified conduct towards her and other members. She characterised it as “racial discrimination, indirect bullying, weight and sexual discrimination and the stress of possibly losing my employment”.

She had raised her concerns verbally with executive members earlier but no action had been taken.

She asked the club to investigate and respond within 10 days.

At a committee meeting three days later, which included the member the complaint was about, the committee agreed to appoint a mediator to work towards a resolution between McLeod and the member.

On September 27 McLeod was invited to mediation by club president Ken Jellyman, who said the executive member had been warned that future similar behaviour would result in referral to the club’s disciplinary committee.

However, before the mediation could happen, McLeod was dismissed.

On October 2 a Taupō business, which had been reviewing and redeveloping the club’s financial processes, provided a written proposal for a new structure.

That day, Jellyman told McLeod that her role was to be reviewed and gave her two options – accept a bar staff role on reduced hours or take three month’s severance pay. McLeod was dismissed.

That afternoon new signatories were loaded on the club’s bank accounts in McLeod’s place and she emailed Jellyman copying in John Grattan, the club’s vice-president, asking to confirm the terms of her termination before processing her final pay.

“I do not want to action the three months’ pay and then be accused of unauthorized (sic) action,” she wrote.

The next morning McLeod calculated and processed her final pay – $8000 immediately and $12,000 on a future processing date – without hearing from Jellyman. This was co-authorised by Grattan.

In an 11am meeting on the same day, Jellyman gave McLeod a letter setting out how her employment would end, including a sentence saying the club would calculate and release her final pay.

McLeod did not sign the document immediately but sought advice about her employment situation. On October 4 her representative wrote to Jellyman about unjustified actions causing disadvantage and unjustified constructive dismissal.

According to the authority decision, the club discovered McLeod’s final pay had been processed following a review of the club’s ledger two days later.

“The club’s view was these payments were unauthorised and a letter was drafted advising Ms McLeod that she was summarily dismissed. The club does not appear to have considered the implications of this action, given it had already terminated Ms McLeod’s employment,” the determination said.

This letter was delivered on October 9.

About a month after McLeod’s employment ended she heard rumours that she had been dismissed because she had stolen money from the club.

A note sent to club members on January 9, 2020, explained unauthorised payments McLeod made to herself were the basis of her dismissal, mediation about McLeod’s unjustified conduct complaint was unsuccessful and the matter would be sent to the Employment Relations Authority.

The authority started its investigation in June 2020 but it was adjourned because the RSA laid charges against McLeod relating to the payments. These were withdrawn in November and the investigation resumed mid-this year.

The authority decision, released on August 25, found McLeod was unjustifiably dismissed and disadvantaged.

It found the club failed to properly investigate McLeod’s personal grievance and take reasonable steps to stop it so failed to provide a safe workplace, free from harassment.

This “negatively impacted” McLeod’s wellbeing at work.

The authority decision said, “McLeod was not given an option to resign or be dismissed”.

“On October 2, Mr Jellyman told Ms McLeod her employment was to end and their discussion then turned to how it would end.

“This is not a constructive dismissal.”

It ruled that the club had not followed “a fair and reasonable” restructure and dismissal process, including preparing a proposal to disestablish a position and giving the worker a fair chance to consider the proposal and provide feedback before a decision was made.

“The failures were not minor and were not the actions a fair and reasonable employer could have taken in all the circumstances.”

The authority declined McLeod’s request for her role to be reinstated as it would be a “financial burden” on the club and it did not believe the employment relationship could be “successfully re-established”.

The authority awarded her $17,000 compensation for “humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings consequent to her dismissal”. Of that, $7000 related to the unjustified disadvantage and the remainder related to unjustified dismissal.

It found while McLeod was aware of the club’s “difficult financial position” she felt “shocked and blindsided” by the termination.

“The impact of the restructuring process and the consequent dismissal has had a profound and negative impact on Ms McLeod.”

The authority also awarded McLeod $5120.90 final pay, $4,730.63 of unpaid alternative holiday pay and $788.12 of holiday pay, plus interest.

In total, McLeod was awarded $27,639.65.

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