A woman assaulted by an intellectually disabled adult she looked after has been awarded $1000 after she was fired for going to the media with the story.
However, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found Sheryl Ritchie was justifiably dismissed from the IHC-run organisation, Idea Services, because she breached its media policy.
Ms Ritchie was employed to help four intellectually handicapped residents, aged 20, 22, 51 and 58 in the house they shared.
She had worked with three of those residents earlier and was aware of their care plans and familiar with their behaviour, but had not worked with the 20-year-old woman.
On August 19 last year, Ms Ritchie took the group to a disco, but on their way home the 20-year-old lashed out at the 22-year-old and when Ms Ritchie intervened, she was also hit and her glasses were broken.
They made it back to the flat where the 22 and 58-year-old went inside, but the 51-year-old and Ms Ritchie were left in the car where the 20-year-old kicked the driver's door, screamed abuse and tried to pull a side mirror off.
Ms Ritchie called the police who refused to attend the incident. They have since apologised for not turning up.
The next day, Ms Ritchie filed an incident report to community service manager Lynette Wright and spoke with her about the incident.
On August 25, Ms Ritchie contacted the media and arranged for a reporter to meet her at the residents' house that afternoon. The reporter interviewed Ms Ritchie and two of the residents, as well as photographing one of the residents.
Ms Ritchie did not tell any of her superiors about the media or article and photo that were subsequently published.
She acknowledged she knew about Idea Services' media policy and her actions were contrary to it.
But she said there was no misconduct as she only contacted the media because she believed management were not going to do anything about her incident report.
In October last year, Idea Services fired Ms Ritchie for serious misconduct for involving residents with the media and had invited the media to the house without following proper procedures.
ERA member Rachel Larmer said Ms Ritchie was not made aware of the challenging behaviour of the 20-year-old and not briefed on how to support her in a non-confrontational manner.
"I therefore find Idea failed to provide Ms Ritchie with a safe workplace because it did not do enough to deal with the potential hazard presented by (the 20-year-old's) behaviour."
But Ms Larmer said Ms Ritchie improperly involved some of the residents to the media, which breached their privacy and that of the other residents.
The authority ordered $1000 compensation for Idea's failure to manage the 20-year-old's potentially hazardous behaviour, but also found Ms Ritchie was justifiably dismissed because of her involvement with the media.
IHC said it did not want to comment on the decision.
Ms Ritchie was unable to be contacted.
- APNZBy Rebecca Quilliam Email Rebecca