Christchurch nightclub ordered to pay security guard $18k

Published 25 July 2023 | 2 min read

Tihei's employment woes begin

In a recent case before the Employment Relations Authority in Christchurch, an alarming incident came to light, shedding light on the importance of fair and just employment practices. Tihei Kereopa-Rerekura, a security guard at the popular Christchurch nightclub, Cruz Bar, found himself in the center of a controversy that led to the unilateral termination of his employment while he was isolating at home due to being a household contact of someone with Covid-19 and subsequently contracting the virus himself.

The termination of Tihei's employment raises concerns about the treatment of employees during challenging times, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. It highlights the need for New Zealand managers and leaders to carefully consider their actions when dealing with such situations.

Tihei Kereopa-Rerekura's case was brought before the Employment Relations Authority, where the facts surrounding his dismissal were closely examined. Tihei claims he was initially told by Mr. Bruce Williamson, a co-director and sole shareholder of Cruz Bar Limited, that his employment was to end because he had 'abandoned' his job by staying home to isolate. Mr. Williamson disputed the need for isolation and insisted that Tihei could have come to work with a mask on. However, when Tihei tested positive for Covid-19, Cruz Bar claimed that his termination was due to the financial impact of Covid-19 government restrictions on their business.

ERA's Decision

The Employment Relations Authority, under the guidance of Member Antoinette Baker, found that the termination of Tihei's employment was unjustified. The dismissal was not in line with what a fair and reasonable employer would have done in the circumstances. Moreover, the Authority determined that Tihei's redundancy claim was not genuine, as the role continued to exist even after his departure.

Consequently, the ERA ordered Cruz Bar Limited to pay the following financial compensation to Tihei Kereopa-Rerekura:

  1. Lost Earnings: Tihei is to be compensated with $1,893.86 gross under s 123(1)(b) of the Employment Relations Act 2000. This amount represents the difference between his earnings for 13 weeks after termination and what he could have earned based on an average of 27 hours per week up to termination.
  2. Notice Period Payment: As there was no justification for the dismissal, Tihei is entitled to a further two weeks' income, totaling $1,350.00 gross, plus 8% holiday pay, amounting to $1,458.00 gross.
  3. Compensation for Unjustified Dismissal: Tihei is awarded $15,000.00 in compensation under s 123(1)(c) of the Employment Relations Act 2000 for 'humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings.'

Key lessons for New Zealand employers

The Tihei Kereopa-Rerekura case serves as a critical reminder to New Zealand employers about the importance of adhering to fair and just employment practices, particularly during challenging times like the Covid-19 pandemic. Kiwi managers and leaders should:

  1. Consultation and Fairness: Employers must engage in genuine consultation with affected employees when considering redundancies or dismissals. A transparent and fair process that allows employees to provide feedback and explore alternative options is vital.
  2. Separating Role from Person: Redundancy should be based on the redundancy of a specific role, not the individual holding the position. Employers must demonstrate that the position is genuinely superfluous to the business needs.
  3. Compliance with Employment Laws: Employers must adhere to New Zealand's Employment Relations Act and ensure that dismissals are justified and lawful. Unilateral termination without proper notice can result in severe consequences.
  4. Compassion and Support: During challenging times, such as the pandemic, employers should exhibit compassion and support towards their employees. Understanding the personal and financial struggles that employees may face during isolation or job loss can help create a more positive work environment.

The Tihei Kereopa-Rerekura case is a wake-up call for New Zealand employers, especially small-to-medium businesses. It underscores the significance of maintaining fair and just employment practices, especially when navigating challenging situations like the Covid-19 pandemic. By treating their employees with empathy, adhering to employment laws, and engaging in open communication, employers can create a more resilient and thriving workforce while avoiding costly legal disputes and reputational damage. The Employment Relations Authority's determination stands as a reminder that fairness and empathy must guide the decisions of employers, safeguarding the well-being of both businesses and employees alike.

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