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Guildford lucky to have a sympathetic employer

THE DOMINION POST - FRIDAY, 18 NOVEMBER 2011


Zac Guildford is capturing the attention of New Zealand because of his over-the-top behaviour in Rarotonga. The 22 year-old All Black wing had a fight over missing scooter keys, and broke away from police taking him to hospital. He then entered a bar, naked and bleeding, threw punches at patrons and had to be restrained, we are told. Apologies followed from Guildford to everybody for the second time in two months. He is lucky to be supported and managed by various people engaged by the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Guildford is still young. As a 17 year-old schoolboy he first represented New Zealand at age-grade rugby. Two years later he was burying his father Robert. By the time he was 19 he had been named in an All Blacks squad. He has the rest of his life ahead of him and with many great opportunities before him. He is a Wairarapa boy with links to the local marae. He misbehaved at a time when the country is still celebrating our win in the Rugby World Cup and rugby is at the centre of everybody’s mind.

From an employment perspective there is little doubt that he could be considered guilty of serious misconduct for bringing his employer into disrepute. It is perhaps questionable whether the Rugby Union has indeed been brought into disrepute by hiss behaviour; certainly Guildford's reputation has been tarnished. There is also a question around whether there is a sufficient nexus between his employment and his activities in Rarotonga, after all he was on an unrelated holiday.

Legally, the NZRU could probably dismiss him, but I don’t think a fair and reasonable employer should do that. Given his youth and promising future as a rugby player, the Rugby Union is probably eager to keep him on and will likely give him the benefit of the doubt.

We are lucky to be living in a more enlightened age where the NZRU has psychologists and others who will mind a person such as Guildford and help him to rehabilitate himself. Sir Colin Meads has said he doesn’t think Guildford’s night out is an indication of wider drinking problems within the All Blacks. He said, “Not from what I’ve heard. I think a lot are quite moderate.” He added, “A lot of them don’t drink at all.”

Rugby has come a long way. I think the role of John Kirwan in our society in acknowledging his depression and helping many people recover from it is an example of the maturity that has come into sport. In the old days there was perhaps not the same wisdom. If Guildford has an addiction to alcohol then the emphasis must go on treatment.

The All Blacks are sponsored by a brewery and rugby is very much part of the beer-drinking culture. It is hard for people to change, however there are examples of players who have been willing to address their drinking problems and have gone on to play rugby successfully for many years.

The importance of a willingness to change was highlighted in the case of Air New Zealand and “V”. Air New Zealand is one of the better employers in this area. In this case, however, the employee in question rejected the need to abstain from both cannabis and alcohol after testing positive for cannabis during a random alcohol and drug test. Despite the safety sensitive nature of V’s work, V was not interested in changing. Air New Zealand’s decision to dismiss him without engaging in rehabilitation was upheld.

Zac Guildford has to do his part in his own recovery. Unless he does that he will be on the front page of the newspapers again in yet another colourful article.

We can only hope that he does commit himself to tackling his problems. My congratulations go the nzrufor wanting to help him recover. It is the humane way for an employer to deal with anyone with an illness or addiction.

I certainly don’t see it as giving some sort of favourable treatment to someone who is guilty of misconduct because they are an All Black. A number of large and respected employers treat their staff in exactly the same way.

Cullen - The Employment Law Firm is one of only eleven law firms in New Zealand approved to provide employment law services to Government and the public sector.

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