An apprentice electrician who was allegedly told he had "f***ed up" and that his boss "didn't give a s***" about his medical certificate after a bout of pneumonia has been awarded more than $20,000 for hurt, humiliation and lost wages.
The man also suffered a mental breakdown, saying he was humiliated after losing the right to use a work vehicle to get to and from work.
The apprentice, who was employed at Electrotec Engineering Limited (EEL), lodged a personal grievance against the company with the Employment Relations Authority claiming constructive dismissal.
Constructive dismissal refers to a situation where an employer's conduct compels a worker to resign.
The apprentice had just returned to work at EEL after three weeks' leave in January 2019 when he got pneumonia.
He went to his doctor on January 13 and was issued a medical certificate giving him seven days off work.
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But employer John van der Spuy messaged the man two days later, on January 15, and said there was a job that needed signing off.
He asked him to come to work "if he felt up to it".
The man did not respond to the request and when he returned on January 21 was told he was no longer able to use the work vehicle to get to and from work.
Van der Spuy said this was because the apprentice returned to work with a bad attitude.
According to Van der Spuy the conversation went something like this:
"Listen, mate, you stuffed up. You came back with a lousy attitude. I am taking the vehicle away from you".
The apprentice said the conversation was more like this:
"You f***ed up, you didn't come to work to help when I asked you last week.
"I don't give a s*** about your medical certificate. I would pay you for that but you messed it up now and you gonna pay now."
The apprentice borrowed a car from family to get to work but then suffered what he described as "a breakdown" when on a building site by himself.
He called his wife for help and concerned for his welfare she made an urgent appointment for her husband and he left the site.
He was diagnosed with increased and reactive anxiety and given a medical certificate stating he was unfit to attend work for the next seven days.
The apprentice sent the certificate by email to Van der Spuy that evening.
Van der Spuy later told the man they had tried to contact him because a fire drill had been held at the worksite and he was not accounted for.
At 7.09am the next day, and before he had seen the email sent the previous evening, Van der Spuy sent the apprentice this text message: "You are not responding to anyone's calls. You have abandoned your job which means instant dismissal."
Soon after sending that text he read the email with the medical certificate attached.
Van der Spuy sent a further email saying the medical certificate did not state what was wrong and said he also needed to be "verbally informed".
The email repeated the earlier text comment about assuming the apprentice had "abandoned" his position because he had not answered phone calls.
The next day, on January 24, the apprentice emailed explaining the reason for his medical certificate was that his GP had put him on stress leave due to "increased anxiety" after the incident on January 21.
He said he was humiliated by having his work vehicle taken away without any reason or notice.
He also said he had not abandoned his employment because he had sent the medical certificate explaining his absence on the evening of January 22.
The Employment Relations Authority investigation found the apprentice was constructively dismissed from EEL and awarded him $6336 in lost wages.
The ERA also agreed the apprentice was unfairly treated over his use of sick leave and the sudden withdrawal of the use of a work vehicle.
He was awarded $14,000 for hurt and humiliation.