Worker punched colleague after rubber band flicked in eye

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A factory worker who punched a colleague after having a rubber band flicked in the eye has lost his case for unfair dismissal.

Dean Howard, who had worked for Carter Holt Harvey for 25 years, resigned after the incident but later claimed he was constructively dismissed and sought $10,000 compensation.

But the Employment Relations Authority said Mr Howard, who was working at the company's packaging factory in Christchurch, was justifiably dismissed.

The authority determination said Mr Howard had been working with a temporary employee, Avinesh Lal, on July 17, 2012, when he was flicked in the eye with a rubber band.

Mr Lal had been pre-stretching the bands to tie around end pieces when one flicked off and hit Mr Howard in the eye.

That prompted Mr Howard to strike Mr Lal in the face with his fist, leaving him bleeding from his mouth.

He later gave the explanation that while it was common for bands to break, he had already been hit several times in the chest, and thought Mr Lal was "trying to wind him up".

When he was struck in the eye, he thought it was a deliberate action, so struck him in the face with a closed fist. He then went to get first aid on his eye.

The incident was reported to a manager several days later, and Mr Howard was suspended on full pay while an investigation took place.

He was invited to attend a disciplinary meeting to discuss the conduct on August 1. Mr Howard resigned during an adjournment in the meeting, but later claimed he was constructively and unjustifiably dismissed.

He provided an affidavit saying Mr Lal had laughed about the situation, and said "it was a good shot, I got him right in the eye".

Mr Lal denied the comment, and said he was just stretching the band when it left his hand and hit Mr Howard's eye. He said bands would "regularly ping off".

When interviewed again by company managers, Mr Howard said: "I gave him a tap in the head for deliberately flicking the band."

He said it was a spur of the moment thing and he'd snapped.

When asked whether he thought it was okay to punch someone in the head he responded "it depends if someone's coming at you and you're taking blows to the body then it's okay."

Mr Howard said he felt remorse, but went on to say he could have lost an eye.

Authority member Helen Doyle determined that in the circumstances Mr Howard's dismissal was fair and reasonable.

- APNZ

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