The Corrections Department has come under fire for a "remarkable absence" of written records that led to the dismissal of a guard, who has now won back her job at Ngawha Prison.
Iona Wikaira was dismissed as a Corrections officer in September 2015 on the grounds of serious misconduct which the Department of Corrections said breached its code of conduct.
She felt she had been treated harshly by her employer.
The offence which gave rise to her dismissal was a criminal charge of wilful damage laid against her in early 2015 after a domestic incident between her and her stepfather during which she broke his car windscreen.
Corrections said she failed to disclose the criminal charge laid against her until March 11, 2015 by which time she had already appeared twice in Kaikohe District Court.
Ms Wikaira pleaded guilty and was discharged without conviction on the grounds she had not been before the courts before and there was a real risk a conviction would have an impact on her job.
In late 2015, she sought reinstatement through proceedings before the Employment Relations Authority which ruled Corrections did not breach the Employment Relations Act by issuing her with a preliminary decision before it met with her.
Ms Wikaira challenged the ERA's decision in the Employment Court which has ordered that she be reinstated to her former position and be paid $17,000 in compensation and lost remuneration.
Chief Employment Court Judge Graeme Colgan said although Ms Wikaira had received Corrections' code of conduct in January 2008, it was replaced by a new and significantly different document in 2011 which was not brought to her attention.
The judge said Corrections did not dispute Ms Wikaira was not made familiar with the new code of conduct which the department relied on very significantly in dismissing her.
Judge Colgan said Corrections' refusal to become involved in her court appearances on the "questionable ground" it had to remain entirely neutral was unfortunate and ill-founded.
"Simply observing or hearing that a Corrections officer has appeared in court charged with wilful damage of property could not, in 21st century New Zealand and of itself, cause a fair-minded and objective person to conclude, on that information alone, that the department was thereby brought in to disrepute," he said.
Judge Colgan noted Corrections' failure to keep written records of minutes or important meetings in regards to Ms Wikaira's employment that led to her dismissal.
Those dealings, he said, were conducted orally.
"If that is so [and I am faced with the sworn evidence of senior departmental representatives that it was] that is arguably a major failing of employment relations management by a substantial and well-resourced government department in respect of important issues that have a track record of ending up not infrequently in litigation," Judge Colgan said.
Ms Wikaira said through her lawyer the Employment Court ruling was a satisfying outcome in a long battle to clear her name and to get her job back.
"She felt she had been treated harshly by her employer as well as believing that she had been treated differently to other employees of the Department of Corrections," her lawyer Mark Ryan said.
Corrections acknowledged the judgment and said Ms Wikaira had been reinstated.
"Corrections demands a high standard of conduct from all employees, and staff are expected to maintain professional boundaries and role model positive law-abiding behaviour at all times."
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