Coach fairly dismissed after sick day fun on Facebook

Photo / File Photo
Photo / File Photo

A Gisborne waka ama coach has lost his appeal against being fired by his employer after pictures of him emerged on Facebook at the secondary school championships, smiling and giving the thumbs up when he was officially on sick leave.

Bruce Taiapa's challenge against a determination by the Employment Relations Authority that his sacking was justified failed in the Employment Court in Auckland.

The court heard Taiapa applied for five days' leave to attend the championships at Rotorua from March 28, 2011. Taiapa had no annual leave left and owed leave.

His employer, Turanga Ararau, an iwi-based training organisation, offered Taiapa three days' leave only as he was needed at work.

Taiapa did not respond to the proposal and his manager assumed he would be at work on the five days in question.

He attended work on March 28 - a Monday - but went home mid-morning saying he was suffering from a long-standing calf injury.

Taiapa was seen later that day leaving Gisborne.

Employment Court Chief Judge Graeme Colgan said Taiapa later provided a medical certificate, which was "bland and uninformative".

Taiapa's case was that an employer was not permitted to dictate where a sick or injured employee recuperated.

But his submission was "misconceived". Taiapa was not dismissed because he chose to recuperate away from his home.

The purpose of sick leave was to enable an employee to recuperate without disadvantage.

That principle was not to be confused with what an employee may do while on sick leave.

Any activities not consistent with recuperation could justify inquiry by an employer.

Judge Colgan said Turanga Ararau undertook a sufficient investigation of its concerns, raised those concerns with Taiapa and gave him an opportunity to respond.

"I agree with the Employment Relations Authority, that a reasonable and fair employer could have dismissed Taiapa as Turanga Ararau did and in the manner that it did."

Taiapa did not have a personal grievance against Turanga Ararau.

Judge Colgan said Turanga Ararau was entitled to a contribution to its costs on Taiapa's challenge but noted he had not gained employment since.

The two parties were given two months to attempt to settle costs, failing which Turanga Ararau could apply for an order.

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