A small business has been ordered to pay an employee $12,000 - including $6000 compensation for distress - after he was sacked for supplying cannabis to a workmate.

The Employment Relations Authority has upheld a claim by Christchurch appliance repairman Corey Wilkinson that his employer, Saxons Appliances, unfairly dismissed him last March after discovering a suspicious message on his company cellphone.

The message from another employee - found as the phone was being cleared for use by another staff member - asked Mr Wilkinson if he was "able to get any stuff".

The decision has shocked management at Saxons Appliances, a firm with 28 staff.

"We just think we've been shafted. We think employers are being shafted," said spokesman Michael Hodges.

Mr Wilkinson, 31, initially denied supplying drugs but, when confronted with the message, admitted selling two cannabis "tinnies" to another staff member the previous year.

He later said he could not remember if he sold the drugs or gave them away.

In its decision, issued yesterday, the authority said Mr Wilkinson said he had repeatedly told the employee he had no cannabis to sell, but after meetings with Saxons management and his lawyer, he was dismissed.

The ERA ruled Saxons had not given Mr Wilkinson notice of the allegation and its likely consequences, or the opportunity to seek support, advice and representation.

It also criticised Saxons for not giving notes from the meetings to Mr Wilkinson's lawyer, and for its view that Mr Wilkinson had sold drugs in the workplace.

Evidence had shown the transaction between Mr Wilkinson and the other worker took place outside work hours, away from Saxons' premises.

Saxons had no policy on employees' use of illegal drugs outside work and - although not deliberately - it had unjustifiably dismissed Mr Wilkinson.

The authority awarded him $6000 compensation for distress, and three months in lost wages

Mr Hodges said the total payout to Mr Wilkinson would probably exceed $12,000.

The company intended complaining to Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson and the authority.

"We're really disappointed that they've not taken into account anything that the company's put forward. It's just so unbalanced it's not funny."

He said companies now needed a clear policy on alcohol and drugs attached to their employment agreement, and had to bear in mind that "the authority seems still heavily weighted in favour of the employee".

Mr Wilkinson, who has a new job, said last night that the episode had been stressful, but he was "just moving on and upwards".

THE CASE
* Corey Wilkinson was sacked by Saxons Appliances in Christchurch after admitting - but later denying - that he sold two cannabis tinnies to a workmate.
* The Employment Relations Authority ruled Saxons had no policy on employees' use of illegal drugs outside the workplace and had unjustifiably dismissed Mr Wilkinson. He was awarded compensation of $6000 and three months' lost wages.
* Saxons Appliances spokesman Michael Hodges said: "We just think we've been shafted. We think employers are being shafted ... It's just so unbalanced it's not funny."