Job fight backfire costs gamekeeper $25k

By Ben Chapman-Smith

A gamekeeper sold off $8,600 worth of deer antlers without his employer's permission. Photo / Alan Gibson
A gamekeeper sold off $8,600 worth of deer antlers without his employer's permission. Photo / Alan Gibson

A game keeper who sold off thousands of dollars' worth of antlers without his employer's permission has lost his claim of unfair dismissal and been told to pay up more than $25,000.

David John Payne was employed for six years as a game keeper farm manager on Stravon's South Canterbury property, until his role was disestablished in June 2011.

Payne went to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) with a number of allegations, including claims of unjustifiable dismissal and that unlawful deductions had been made from his pay.

His case backfired after the ERA found Stravon had had every right to terminate his role in its transition from farming to a safari-type tourist operation.

It also found Payne had been offered two other positions by Stravon, in an attempt to keep him on board, which he refused.

"Having established that Mr Payne was not interested in either of the positions offered, the Authority is satisfied that it was available to Stravon to terminate Mr Payne's services for redundancy and that that termination was not an unjustified one," said ERA member James Crichton.

In his determination, Crichton found Payne owed his former employer $9,500 for the loss of nine fallow deer and $8,600 for cast antlers which he collected and sold.

The ERA learnt that while Payne was working out his one month's notice of redundancy he was asked to move a mob of fallow deer.

After an unsuccessful attempt to shift the animals, Payne returned the next day with a quad bike and dogs.

A witness told the ERA that Payne pushed the 12 young deer so hard that they became distressed "to the point of mortality".

The business' taxidermist said Payne threw fallen animals into his trailer while they were still alive and that he continued to chase the other deer while the dying deer were bouncing around in his trailer.

"The Authority has no hesitation in concluding that this episode was disgracefully mismanaged by Mr Payne and that he is responsible for the deaths of those animals," Crichton said.

A few months later, after the employment relationship had ended, Stravon discovered that Payne had been collecting and selling cast antlers and then pocketing the proceeds.

Male deer of most breeds cast their antlers and grow a new set each year.

Payne admitted selling the antlers but said that he had permission from boss Todd Stewart, who denied this.

"Aside entirely from the criminal aspects of that behaviour, so far as the employment
relationship is concerned, it is as clear as can be that there is a breach of duty by
Mr Payne," Crichton said.

"He must account to Stravon for the $8,626.39 that he has been paid in selling Stravon property.

Payne was also told to reimburse his former employer for expenses incurred at his work accommodation and not paid to Stravon as was required.

Those amounts were $966.28 for telephone calls, $3,681.00 for return airfares to the United Kingdom and $2,591.99 for the use of the internet.

Stravon also complained Payne damaged the chimney of the house he was provided with by shooting a shotgun into it.

Payne said that he did this to discourage starlings that were nesting there and that he had Stewart's authority to do so, which was denied.

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