Fire chief loses bid to stay on duty

By Mike Dinsdale

4 comments

"As a result of its investigations, Top Energy did not accept Mr Wasson's claims and said that in attending the fire service callout while being on stand-by, he was in breach of its emergency policy, which amounted to serious misconduct"

Les Wasson
Les Wasson

A Top Energy worker and volunteer fire chief disciplined for breaching company policy and speeding in a work vehicle on his way to a fire callout has lost his bid to have the policy declared unlawful and the sanction imposed on him unjustified.

Top Energy senior faultman and Kerikeri Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Les Wasson had privilege to attend community service during work hours withdrawn for 12 months from January 31, this year, after an incident on December 13, 2012.

Mr Wasson took a case to the Employment Relations Authority saying the company policy he breached was unlawful or unreasonable and he was treated unjustifiably by the company.

In a decision released yesterday, ERA member Anna Fitzgibbon ruled against Mr Wasson, finding the policy was not inconsistent with his employment contract terms and the sanction imposed by the company was within the range of responses open to a fair and reasonable employer in the circumstances.

Mr Wasson has been employed by the company since 1977 and in his role as chief fire officer has been attending fire service callouts during normal working hours and while on the Top Energy stand-by roster.

The company introduced its Emergency Community Service Policy in mid-2011 for employees engaged in emergency community service work during work hours or while on stand-by.

Mr Wasson was consulted as a union delegate while the policy was being formulated.

On December 13, 2012, Mr Wasson responded to an emergency fire service callout while being on call for Top Energy. He exceeded the speed limit in a company car. On discovering this, Top Energy undertook a disciplinary investigation.

Mr Wasson explained to Top Energy he was speeding because he was attending the callout. Top Energy concluded he was in breach of the company's vehicle policy and he was issued with a warning, which he accepted.

Mr Wasson denied being aware of the prohibition from attending emergency callouts while on call and denied being aware the emergency policy had been finalised.

As a result of its investigations, Top Energy did not accept Mr Wasson's claims and said that in attending the fire service callout while being on stand-by, he was in breach of its emergency policy, which amounted to serious misconduct.

Geoffrey Smith, Top Energy's project delivery manager told the ERA it was difficult to keep a record of employees taking time off work to attend emergency community work and it was impacting on business.

He said it was not just an issue involving Mr Wasson, but others at Top Energy who were involved in volunteer community service work.

The company says it allowed up to 20 paid hours leave a year for each volunteer to do so, which it was not required by law to do.

- Northern Advocate

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