'Stressed' farm worker justifably sacked: ERA

By Brendan Manning

A farm worker who took 'stress leave' after three weeks was justifiably sacked, the ERA has found. Photo / Thinkstock
A farm worker who took 'stress leave' after three weeks was justifiably sacked, the ERA has found. Photo / Thinkstock

A Canterbury farm worker who took 'stress leave' after only three weeks' work was justifiably dismissed, the Employment Relations Authority has found.

Leroy Jarvis worked for Brookton Farm Limited at Leeston, south-west of Christchurch, from late February in 2009.

When he first applied for the job, the then-farm manager Malcolm Ford asked whether he had any dairy farm experience.

Mr Jarvis said he had, giving examples of relief milking that he had done in Bay of Plenty and gave two referees, Mandy and Andy Freeman - his mother and step-father.

Mr Jarvis told the ERA that he disclosed his relationship with his referees to Mr Ford, however Mr Ford was adamant that he had never been told.

Mr Jarvis got the job, and the ERA was told that the initial working relationship was a positive one.

However, after some time Mr Jarvis raised concerns he had with staff ratios on the farm and "health and safety matters".

His complaints to Mr Ford resulted in Mr and Ms Freeman being hired as relief contract milkers.

ERA member James Crichton heard that matters came to a head on March 15 and 16, Mr Jarvis' rostered days off.

Mr Ford asked him to work those days due to a staffing shortage and Mr Jarvis agreed, however on the second day he told Mr Ford that he was experiencing "signs of workplace stress" and asked to leave work early.

They spoke in the milking shed and Ms Freeman subsequently stepped in, telling her son to go home and have a sleep and that the rest of the crew would finish his duties for the day.

Later that day Mr Jarvis held a series of meetings with Mr Ford, during which he said he "wanted to put in for sick leave" and that he would not be working the following day as he was "under grievance."

In a letter he gave to Mr Ford he said, "I wish to advise you due to the deception contents of contract [sic] in relation to roster dates, times and duties I will not be subject to any further misrepresentation and due to stress and trauma I feel at risk."

The matter was then handed over to the farm's operation manager who wrote to Mr Jarvis instructing him to return to work and telling him that he was not entitled to sick or stress leave as he had not been working the statutory minimum of six months.

Mr Jarvis was then summoned to a disciplinary meeting, at which he was summarily dismissed based on the use of his mother and step-father as referees and his threatening behaviour towards Mr Ford.

In Mr Crichton's ERA determination, he said while it might be thought that the weight of evidence favoured Mr Jarvis' claim that he disclosed his relationship to his referees to Mr Ford, "the Authority much preferred the staunch evidence of Mr Ford who was unshakeable in his conviction that he did not know the Freemans' relationship to Mr Jarvis."

Mr Crichton also referenced allegations by Brookton Farm that Ms Freeman abused or intimidated Trevor Hamilton, who was the Managing Director of TH Enterprises Limited, the parent company of the farm.

He also raised an allegation of Ms Freeman's attempts to extort money from Brooklyn Farm where on two separate occasions she threatened to lay a complaint with a Health and Safety Inspector about the alleged state of the farm unless they paid Mr Jarvis $10,000 "compensation."

These allegations were found to be true by the ERA which Mr Crichton described as a "breach of faith."

- APNZ

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