A diabetic fruit and vegetable company worker who was fired for miscounting limes and grapefruit and falling asleep on his forklift died two months before he was awarded $12,000 for unfair dismissal.

Robert Graham was awarded the amount after the Employment Relations Authority found his former employer Turners and Growers acted unfairly.

The company has been ordered to pay him $12,000 for lost wages and compensation over the dispute. The money will now go to Mr Graham's estate as he died in October.

Mr Graham started working with the company in 2002, and his duties included unloading vegetable trucks, data entry and driving the forklift.


He had no disciplinary issues until February 2011 when he received a written warning for signing off on a pallet of limes, later found to be six boxes short. Nine months later he got a final warning for "the miscounting of grapefruit", said the ERA finding.

In March 2012 Mr Graham was fired after he was caught sleeping on his parked forklift twice - a decision he fought.

An employee who found him asleep on one of the occasions, said Mr Graham told him '''he just dozed off'.

"Shortly afterwards he approached me, asked me if he could go home as his diabetes was playing up and he felt sick and tired," said the man.

On the second occasion, it took some time to wake Mr Graham and "he did look terrible", said another worker who found him.

During a disciplinary meeting Mr Graham said he couldn't remember sleeping and said that he was just resting on the forklift but admitted his diabetes was affecting him.

The company determined to send him to a specialist to find out to what extent his health was affecting his work.

A medical report by Dr David Hartshorn found "Mr Graham did not present with a history of significant diabetic complications that would impact on his capacity to safely engage in forklift driving activities".

He found no evidence to suggest Mr Graham's sleep problems were a medical barrier for his performance of work duties.

However, Mr Graham was advised by his employer sleeping at work was deemed to be serious misconduct and he was dismissed - a decision the ERA found unjustified.

The decision caused Mr Graham to have a tearful "melt down", who said he had few other work options because of his age and health, said the ERA finding.

"Mr Graham had significant health issues but he had managed them in undertaking his role. When Mr Graham was found asleep on his parked up forklift on two occasions on one day his main explanation for sleeping was that he was unwell on the day in question and his diabetes was playing up.

"A fair and reasonable employer could have placed weight on that explanation,'' said ERA member Helen Doyle.

Mr Graham did not contribute to his dismissal and the medical report showed he was able to safely continue his role, she said.

In October, two months before the outcome of the ERA, Mr Graham died.

Turners and Growers has been ordered to pay $12,000 for compensation to his estate.