A Masterton farm manager who was employed on the same property for more than 45 years has succeeded in having his personal grievance claim of being constructively dismissed upheld by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).
Eugene Lowe and his wife Margaret applied to the authority naming Waimapu Station, whose sole director is John Martin, as respondent in the action which follows his employment ending in late 2014.
In a complicated judgment given after the consideration of many claims, and counter claims, the authority Trish MacKinnon found Mr Lowe had been constructively dismissed but likewise had to consider whether his actions contributed to the situation and, if so, to what extent.
Mr Lowe, now aged 68, was appointed farm manager at Waimapu in May 1969, when he was 22 years old.
Subsequently he and his wife lived most of their adult lives there, having two children who grew up on the station.
In evidence it was revealed there was no written employment agreement with Mr Martin offering Mr Lowe the job verbally, an agreement described as a "gentlemen's agreement".
Over the years Mr Lowe ran the hill country breeding farm, which included paying the farm bills, keeping the wages book, and employing casual labour at times when it was needed.
It was found by the authority he had increased his own salary between 2006 and 2014 without gaining the agreement of Mr Martin.
That action was described as having influenced Waimapu's decision to cut his salary from August 2014.
Ms MacKinnon said in her finding while Mr Lowe's salary increases "did not constitute unjustifiable enrichment" his actions had breached his duty of good faith to his employer and contributed to the situation that had led to the personal grievance case.
Also at issue in the dispute were bonus payments Mr Lowe received, particularly from 2009 when he began paying himself a bonus without informing Mr Martin, or discussing it with him.
Waimapu contended the bonus system had been abandoned from 1980.
Summing up, the authority ordered Waimapu Station partnership to pay Mr Lowe $12,600 in compensation along with salary arrears of $4539 for the months of August and September 2014, $10,500 in holiday pay and to also pay holiday pay of $1728 to Mrs Lowe.
Conversely Mr Lowe was ordered to pay "special damages" of $26,325 to Waimapu Station Partnership.
Speaking in the aftermath of the written decision the Lowe family said, through barrister Jills Angus Burney, they were pleased their 10-month wait for the ERA decision was over.
Mr and Mrs Lowe had been "devastated" by the actions that had brought about constructive dismissal on the eve of Mr Lowe's retirement.
Ms Angus Burney said the Lowes were "pleased the Authority agreed that after 45 years of a good, harmonious relationship Mr Lowe had been treated very unfairly in the period July to September 2014".
"Mr Lowe believed his bonus payment was a legitimate term of his employment from 1969.
"He is surprised he is being required to repay these wages given an end to the bonus was never raised by his employer," she said.
Ms Angus Burney said the Lowe family believe there is much the farming community can learn from the case about the need for "active communication and the updating of procedures in such longstanding farming employment relationships".
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