An ambulance officer who said he was overworked, underpaid then unjustifiably suspended has been awarded more than $30,000 for hurt, humiliation and lost wages.
First responder Solomon Taputoro told the Employment Relations Authority he worked excessive hours that were often unpaid because his employer, Healthcare Horizons Ltd, was in financial trouble.
Healthcare Horizons provided ambulance services in the Christchurch region under the name Horizons Ambulance. It is currently in liquidation.
Taputoro took his case to the Employment Relations Authority in 2018 after he was suspended from work for asking questions about late driving shifts.
The ERA awarded Taputoro $20,000 for hurt and humiliation, $13,586.40 in lost wages and $4,500 in legal costs.
At the time of his resignation, Taputoro was owed $12,544.21 in unpaid wages, annual leave, sick leave, and public holiday pay.
This was paid by Horizons prior to the ERA decision.
Trouble started for Taputoro at Horizons in July 2018 - a year and a half into his contract with the company.
He and co-workers raised concerns about breaches in their employment agreement after they had "not received full payment of wages for approximately five weeks."
Employer Michael Coursey said Horizons was facing financial difficulty and invoked a clause in the employment agreement which "temporarily released
Horizon from its obligations to pay wages. "
Taputoro disputed the legality of the clause at the time.
He also raised concerns with Coursey about excessive hours and lack of compensation for being 'on call.'
A month later Taputoro raised concerns about late breaks when driving the Christchurch hospital shuttle.
He was told the shuttle's schedule was set by the Canterbury District Health Board.
Taputoro asked DHB staff about the schedule to get some clarity. When Coursey found out he ordered Taputoro to stop asking questions.
This ended in disagreement and Coursey suspended Taputoro and "directed him to leave the workplace."
Taputoro attended a disciplinary meeting the next day and was told he was being investigated for voicing his concerns with the DHB about the shuttle schedule and his "aggressive attitude towards management".
Because he was not being paid and didn't believe his suspension was going to be lifted Taputoro felt he had no choice but to resign.
He resigned in September with thousands outstanding in unpaid wages, annual leave, sick leave and public holiday pay.
The ERA acknowledged Horizon paid Taputoro the outstanding $12,544.21 in two installments.
The ERA found Taputoro's resignation was forced because of a 'serious breach of duty' by Horizons.
It also found Horizons had failed to pay wages, holiday pay, sick pay and public holiday pay and had unlawfully suspended the ambulance officer.
The ERA agreed that during his time searching for another job Taputoro lost $13,586.40.
Taputoro sought compensation for hurt, humiliation, and injury to feelings
arising out of his constructive dismissal by Horizons.
He suggested $20,000 was an appropriate compensatory figure in his statement of the problem. The ERA agreed.
"I accept Mr Taputoro felt degraded, demeaned and diminished as a result of
his constructive dismissal by Horizons and the circumstances within which that
occurred," the ERA decision read.
"His evidence in this regard was supported by another witness."
Horizons Healthcare was placed into liquidation during the course of the ERA hearing.
The ERA contacted liquidators to advise of the investigation and payment awarded to Taputoro.