Key Points:

A Christchurch heart surgery patient got another shock when his boss visited him as he recovered and sacked him.

Murray Gardiner, 60, had a double by-pass in January after a week of chest pains but as he recuperated at Ellesmere Hospital in Lincoln, near Christchurch, his boss visited to tell him he had been sacked from his job of 11 years.

Mr Gardiner was admitted to Christchurch Hospital's emergency department on January 3 and had the operation on January 15, The Press newspaper reported.

He told the paper his boss, Patch Rubber Company director Julian Proctor, had declared the operation only partially successful.

"I was flabbergasted. I could have had a heart attack," he said.

"I didn't even know he was coming," he said.

An employment lawyer called the move "unlawful", "callous" and "grossly insensitive".

Mr Gardiner said his boss told him the operation was not fully successful and the veins taken from his legs were not much better than the ones going to his heart, so only half the operation could be completed.

To return to full duties too soon "could kill you", warned Mr Proctor.

A temporary replacement for Gardiner could not be found "even if you are able in the future to resume full duties".

"So it is with regret that I must terminate your employment," Mr Proctor wrote.

The newspaper said Mr Gardiner told his boss he would be fit within three months but Mr Proctor said he could not afford to wait that long.

"The part that disturbed me most was what he had written about the operation being unsuccessful. He formed his own opinion," Mr Gardiner told The Press.

Hospital records said surgery and post-surgery were uneventful with no complications.

The paper said Mr Proctor said Patch Rubber, a six-staffer company importing small tyre repair equipment, was incredibly busy.

There was no hope of finding a temporary replacement for Mr Gardiner.

Asked if it was callous to sack Gardiner in hospital, Proctor said: "How else could I do it? Tell me how else I could have done it."

He said with no advice from Mr Gardiner's doctors, he relied on information from his colleagues and people who had bypass surgery.

He said he was "unbelievably upset" about the sacking.

"I felt sick the whole way driving out there and I started crying as I left the room. It's the most horrible, terrible, thing to do but I've got five other employees that I have to keep going."

Mr Gardiner said he was taking legal advice over his sacking and settlement offer - $8580 less tax - and had gone on the dole.