A fired farm worker who had to vacate on-site accommodation with his pregnant partner and child within two weeks has been awarded more than $14,000 in compensation.
Whangarei farm worker Jesse Komene was accused of hitting a power pole on a dairy farm which caused a power outage.
Komene was stood down and eventually dismissed despite denying he had caused the damage.
He took his case to the Employment Relations Authority saying he had been unjustifiably dismissed and suffered hurt and humiliation.
On October 29, 2018 Komene discovered that the power was off at the farm and the water pump wasn't working.
Shane Holland, Guardian Farm's sole director, went to the paddock to investigate the cause. He discovered a power pole down in the paddock with a nick in the side of it.
Holland accused Komene of hitting it with a tractor the previous day when he was out in the field.
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Komene denied hitting the pole and said if he had, the force of his tractor would have pushed the pole over, causing the lines to come down and he would have been electrocuted.
Komene asked if he could view the damage to the power pole and was told that he could not.
He was told that whilst the investigation was under way he was not permitted to return to the farm and was to remain in the immediate surrounds of his farmhouse.
Later, when a meeting was arranged to hear Komene's version of events, he asked Holland if it could be postponed by a few hours so he could have a support person present. This was also denied.
Komene was told the purpose of the meeting was just to discuss what happened with the power pole, so a support person was not necessary. He was told no further action would be taken. He took this to mean there would not be disciplinary action.
But at the meeting, Holland alleged Komene had hit a power pole, pushing it over and
snapping the cross members, and had failed to report the incident, instead leaving the
site in a dangerous position for livestock and staff.
Komene was advised if this was proved he could be dismissed.
Komene again denied causing damage to the power pole and said the farm still had power after he had worked in the paddock.
He said there were other explanations, including that Holland and his father had been working in the paddock in the days prior.
Komene also suggested the age of the pole combined with a severe storm the night earlier could have caused the damage.
Komene said that Holland did not accept any of his explanations and dismissed them outright.
He asked Holland for copies of the photos and a copy of the linesman's report.
He never received them.
On November 2, Holland visited Komene at home and asked him to come to the cowshed for a talk.
Holland was visibly upset and told him he wanted to keep him on but the owner of the farm wanted him off the property.
He was dismissed and was told he would be paid two weeks' wages in lieu of notice and had two weeks to move out of the farmhouse he lived in with his pregnant partner and infant child.
The ERA found Guardian Farm's decision to terminate Komene's employment did not fall within the range of what a fair and reasonable employer could have done.
It was acknowledged that Komene went to a disciplinary meeting without support and without notice of the extent of the allegations.
He was not provided with access to photos of the damage to the pole, the linesman's report, and was not allowed on the farm to see the damage himself.
Guardian Farms did not consider any of Komene's explanations - such as if the power pole could have come down due to its age and poor weather - before making its decision to terminate.
The ERA agreed Komene suffered hurt and humiliation in that he had to move his pregnant partner and small child from their on-site home within two weeks.
He also suffered loss of wages at this time.
He was awarded $3169.22 for lost wages, $10,000 for hurt and humiliation and $1196.56 toward legal costs.