A former Dunedin bus driver "wrongly branded as a thief and a fraudster" after being dismissed over a $2.90 fare has won nearly $20,000 in compensation.
Kevin Hellyer was dismissed by Go Bus Transport after an undercover inspector saw him let his wife ride for free after she forgot her wallet, in Dunedin in August 2014.
Mr Hellyer complained about the dismissal to the Employment Relations Authority and in September last year was awarded nearly $10,000 by the authority.
Go Bus appealed the decision, but the Employment Court has almost doubled his payout after two hearings in Dunedin earlier this year.
Chief Judge Graeme Colgan in his judgment, released on Friday, ordered the iwi-owned company to pay Hellyer $19,721.29. This comprised $6235.39 in lost wages, $12,800 in compensation, $498.84 in holiday pay and $187.06 in lost KiwiSaver benefits.
Hellyer was "wrongly branded as a thief and a fraudster by Go Bus", the judgment said.
Hellyer, 60, who lives in Riverton, said justice had been served.
"I couldn't have wished for a better Christmas present."
He hoped it would make employers reconsider the meaning of the words "fair and reasonable".
The judge's ruling the dismissal was unjustified was more important than the money awarded, he said.
Go Bus South Island operations director Nigel Piper said on Sunday the company had no comment to make on the judgment.
"We have not had an opportunity to read the decision and most of the offices are closed for the holidays."
Piper declined the offer of being emailed the judgment to make an informed comment.
Hellyer's wife Glynn Cooper said the decision brought some closure and she hoped Go Bus would not appeal the decision again.
"I'm pleased it's all over because it's been a tough two years ... sacking Kevin for a $2.90 fare has altered our lives and not for the better."
Faced with "limited income and limited opportunities" in Dunedin, the couple sold their house in the city and had moved to Riverton.
The couple had both found work in Southland.
"Things are looking up," she said.
Tramways Union national secretary Kevin O'Sullivan said he was "delighted" with the judgment.
"I hope it makes Go Bus sit up and have a think about how it operates ... they have to think about how they treat people."
The management of Go Bus had improved since Hellyer was dismissed but there was still room for improvement, he said.