An academic working for the University of Waikato who offered his resignation with "a big **** you" during a bout of depression was unjustifiably dismissed.
The man, who the Herald has decided not to name, was awarded $20,000 compensation and three months' lost salary by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), which released its decision today.
According to the decision, he became unwell in 2012 and wanted to resign. However, his manager refused to accept this, recommending he instead obtain support through the university's employee assisted programme (EAP).
The man saw a psychologist who found he was suffering from depression. He went on leave, not returning to work until January 2013.
He tried to get more sessions with the psychologist but the man's application for this assistance had been declined by the university, the decision says.
He emailed the EAP provider stating that this, plus unfair contracts and a very high workload "has given me a '**** you' attitude towards uni as an employer".
As part of his role, the man helped organise a research programme but raised concerns about the number of people he was required to supervise. He also advised his boss he had changed the course outline.
This triggered a request the man attend a disciplinary meeting, with allegations he had undermined his colleagues, failed to carry out his duties competently, overrepresented his position and changed course content without going through proper channels
The man refused to attend the meeting, stating the allegations were unfounded. He also declined to attend a second meeting.
The university found his behaviour had breached its code of conduct by "continually undermining the authority of the course and programme conveners" and eroded its confidence in him, the ERA decision says.
He was given a final warning, after which he raised another concern and said he no longer wanted to take part the programme.
He was again asked to meet with his bosses but refused unless the final warning was retracted.
He was told that it was his job to supervise the programme and was threatened with disciplinary action if he failed to meet the university's expectations.
That's when he sent the university an email interpreted as a resignation without notice.
"I'd like to finish my employment at the University of Waikato with a big **** You," the email said. "Either dismiss me by the end of today or I will come to the university tomorrow and destroy something that you have to [sic].
"No more emails, phone calls, letters or EAP. Do it and I will just go in peace, leave me alone and leave my colleagues out of it. I've been humiliated enough."
The university immediately terminated his employment and, given his "threatening comments", cancelled his access to the university.
ERA member Tania Tetitaha found that the decision to terminate his employment within an hour of receiving the email appeared "opportunistic".
"Following a suitable cooling off period an investigation into his resignation could have been made," she said.
"The university should not have accepted the ... email as a resignation in these circumstances. Their actions in doing so dismissed [the man]."
The ERA was told that he had been taking medication for depression eight days prior to the dismissal.
"There was evidence his depression was connected to his work situation and the university was aware of this," the decision says.
While accepting that his email may have amounted to serious misconduct, further investigation could have revealed relevant information about his health at the time. She therefore declined to reduce compensation for blameworthy conduct, awarding the man $20,000 compensation.
The university was also ordered to pay him the equivalent of three months' lost remuneration, an amount that was not disclosed.
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