Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Dairy worker sacked by text unfairly dismissed

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A dairy worker who was sacked by text message says the relationship with his employers broke down after he took a day and a half annual leave for the birth of his child.

But his employer says it was because he would often miss work with no excuse.

Cory Johansen was awarded $829 by the Employment Relations Authority after he was unjustifiably dismissed by his bosses, David and Diane Hodgson, who were directors of Mormilk Farm Ltd.

Mr Johansen said dismissal punished him for looking after his wife and child.

His dismissal was text messaged to him on March 28 last year, after he failed to return to work after his lunch break.

Mr Johansen was due to return to work at 1pm but did not contact his employer until about 4.30pm, when he texted to say he had fallen asleep.

He was employed as a dairy worker in 2009, and his employer agreement included accommodation and free grazing for his calves.

Mr Johansen told the authority problems arose with the Hodgsons after taking time off work for the birth of his child in January last year.

The Hodgsons had pressured him to return from parental leave early, he said.

He said he was "disadvantaged because his request for parental leave resulted in the breakdown of the employment relationship".

However, authority member Rachel Larmer found Mr Johansen had not properly applied for parental leave.

He needed to notify Mormilk three months before an expected delivery date and provide a certificate confirming his partner was pregnant and when she was due.

Mr Johansen verbally told the Hodgsons of the due date and wrote his leave dates on the company's wall calendar.

"I do not accept Mr Johansen's evidence that he was pressured to not take parental leave or to return to work after the birth of his child," Ms Larmer said.

Mr Johansen acknowledged the perceived pressure came from his awareness that it was a very busy time on the farm.

Before his dismissal, Mr Johansen had received a verbal warning, a written warning and a final warning between February 13 and March 14 last year for failing to turn up to work.

Ms Larmer said Mormilk had "legitimate concerns about Mr Johansen's performance, timekeeping and attendance at work".

"However, the way it went about implementing each of the various warnings it imposed on Mr Johansen breached basic fairness and natural justice requirements."

Ms Larmer said Mr Johansen had not helped his situation by not turning up to work in the middle of calving, which was one of Mormilk's busiest times of the year.

But none of the warnings were imposed after a disciplinary process and Mr Johansen did not have an opportunity to respond to them, she said.

She declined to award any compensation to Mr Johansen for distress because she said he had "fully contributed" to the situation that resulted in a warning.

But she did award $500 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to his feelings.

She also ordered Mormilk to pay $329.80 in holiday pay.


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