An employee sacked over a bag of $3000 of missing money that he did not steal has been awarded more than $40,000 for unfair dismissal by the Employment Relations Authority.

Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village Limited were ordered to pay Waisea Bula $20,000 in compensation and more than $20,000 in lost wages and holiday pay.

Bula, who worked for Aoraki for nearly 10 years, was dismissed on January 13, 2017, from where he was working as a front office manager at The Hermitage Hotel.

Bula was responsible for managing 18 staff, operating an effective "night audit function" and balancing floats and banking in the absence of the general manager.


On December 24, 2016, Bula was working at reception of The Hermitage with another staff member.

At approximately 11am, Bula was handed a night audit bag containing $3000 from a staff member of Mt Cook Lodge and Motels - a geographically distinct operation to the reception – as there had been an on-going problem with the lodge's safe.

Bula claims he put the bag in the "night audit tray" which was located atop the main safe in the reception office and returned to his duties.

However, between the bag being handed to Bula and the cash takings being collected from the reception safe on December 27, the money went missing.

Between December 28 and January 10, 2017, Bula was the subject of a number of meetings as part of an investigation into the missing money and "concerns over Bula's management of cash".

Aoraki said it did not believe Bula had taken the money - instead dismissing another employee, Mr A, for the theft.

However, Aoraki said Bula was responsible for receiving and securing the money and failed to do so in contravention of company policy and his employment agreement.

Bula said there was no written procedure or process about what to do with the bag.

Aoraki told Bula in a conclusion letter via email that his actions constituted "serious misconduct".

"I believe that your actions compromised the security of company cash, and that you were negligent and did not exercise care in the discharge of your duties," the email stated.

In its determination, the authority ruled that the dismissal of Bula was procedurally and substantively unjustifiable.

"I find the substantive decision to dismiss Bula and the process adopted to reach that decision were outside the range of what a fair and reasonable employer could have done in all the circumstances at the time," the authority said.

"The investigation conducted by Aoraki into Bula was procedurally unfair and was not the action of a fair and reasonable employer. The defects in the process followed by Aoraki to dismiss Bula were not minor and they did result in him being treated unfairly."

The authority ruled that Aoraki failed to properly investigate, undertaking a "once over lightly approach".

Bula was awarded $20,000 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

Bula said he was totally humiliated by his dismissal and had trouble sleeping due to worrying about money and paying bills.

In addition to compensation, Aoraki were ordered to reimburse Bula $17,447.27 in lost wages, $1,027.44 in holiday pay, $2,600 for loss of accommodation and associated benefits and a combined $1,633.55 for removal and storage costs.