Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Woman fired days after miscarriage

The Pharmacy technician was awarded $15 000 after being unjustifiably dismissed. File photo / Thinkstock
The Pharmacy technician was awarded $15 000 after being unjustifiably dismissed. File photo / Thinkstock

An Auckland pharmacy technician was sacked for taking too much sick leave just days after a miscarriage.

Aedene Massie, 25, has been awarded $15,000 for hurt and humiliation after the Employment Relations Authority found she was unjustifiably dismissed from Pharmacy 72 on the North Shore last June.

A co-worker raised suspicions that Ms Massie might have stolen money from the till but her employers, Allan and Neenee Ong, never discussed the allegations with her.

Instead, Mr Ong listed concerns with her performance - including that she took too much sick leave - when he dismissed her two days after she returned to work after her miscarriage. Last night she told the Herald she was glad the ordeal was over.

"It's been a pretty tough year to be honest ... We're doing okay now."

Ms Massie said she had not heard anything from her former employers since the court hearing. She would never have expected anyone to go through what she had experienced.

"I have noticed a couple of other cases, though. One other in New Zealand, I think it was a bit different, and the other in Canada. So there are a few out there."

Ms Massie became pregnant shortly after she started working at the pharmacy last April.

A scan two months later revealed problems that her doctor said would lead to a miscarriage. Upset at the news, she took a day off work with the permission of a co-worker.

She was put in hospital after she started to miscarry on Saturday, June 18, but returned to work the following Monday, despite being in severe pain.

Ms Massie continued to work until her doctor told her on the Thursday that she needed to be in hospital to undergo a procedure for her ongoing miscarriage.

She was admitted for a second time that day and sought a medical certificate stating she would not be able to return to work until Monday, June 27.

Two days later, she was fired by Mr Ong - whom she had not met before - at a meeting she thought was to discuss a pay rise.

Ms Massie told the authority she was upset at the comments about her sick leave. Her miscarriage had left her in an extremely vulnerable and distressed emotional state.

She had taken only five days of sick leave, four of which were because of her miscarriage and all of which had been approved.

Ms Massie said Mrs Ong initially seemed pleased about her pregnancy, but when she spoke to her after her miscarriage, Mrs Ong said the pharmacy was a small business and she was unsure whether it would suit Ms Massie if she wanted to start a family.

Mrs Ong disputed that, saying she had advised Ms Massie that if she wanted to start a family, she should consider a less stressful job, especially if she had a propensity to miscarry.

Authority member Eleanor Robinson found the nature of Ms Massie's dismissal departed so far from the basic requirements of procedural fairness that it was unjustified.

There was no investigation into the dishonesty allegations and Ms Massie was not given the opportunity to offer an explanation.

She was not advised of the disciplinary nature of her meeting with Mr Ong and the decision to dismiss her had been predetermined.

The timing of the meeting also fell far short of what was expected of a fair and reasonable employer, given Ms Massie's miscarriage was well known to them.

"Ms Massie was still in a fragile and vulnerable state to which Mr and Mrs Ong agreed that they had given no consideration on the day of the meeting," Mrs Robinson found.

"I consider that in these circumstances the fair and reasonable employer would have delayed a disciplinary or any other meeting until the employee was better able to address the issues raised."

The authority awarded Ms Massie $540 in lost wages and $15,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and hurt feelings. Costs were reserved.

- additional reportingAndrew Koubaridis

- NZ Herald

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