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Dismissed after snoring: A reminder casual employees deserve respect

Like all relationships, entering into an employment relationship can be messy and expensive. Tempers can flare, parties can say things they may not mean, and in a short space of time, it can all be over.

Sleeping in the car

A recent Employment Court case could not demonstrate that better after an employee’s weekend sojourn went bitterly wrong. In this case the employee (and soon to be grievant) was asked to go on a weekend trip to help with the promotion of the company’s products at an event. Joining him was the employee’s manager and another colleague.

The company had planned for the grievant to share a room with his colleague. Unfortunately for both, it appears that the grievant was a snorer and his colleague did not take kindly to this. The end result was that the grievant left the motel room during the night, complained to the police about an altercation and slept the remainder of the night in the company car.

The next morning the grievant sent a message to his manager saying his workmate threatened to kill him the previous night if he snored, and that he had to call police. He advised that he wanted nothing more to do with his workmate, was not able to work that day and did not want to pick up his workmate.

When the parties eventually made their way to the event, the grievant was told by his manager he should rest in the car.

Following the event, the original plan was for the grievant to return by car with his colleague. However, still uncomfortable with his colleague, the grievant opted instead to go by bus.

While waiting for the bus the grievant says he was rung by his manager who showed little interest in his plight, made no attempt to stop him leaving, but instructed him to return his work shirts.

The grievant later received a text message from the manager inquiring about a broken mirror in the motel room and saying the grievant had let him down badly. A series of texts were exchanged on the matter.

The next day the grievant was told by text to drop off his company shirts and to pick up his car from the company premises. To conclude matters, the manager sent the grievant an email advising that the manager would not be continuing with job role offers of (casual) employment in the future.

No mention of dismissal was made. No declarations of being fired were made. So was the grievant dismissed?

There are a couple of things to consider. The grievant was a casual worker. Not calling a casual employee in for another engagement is not normally a dismissal. However, casual employees can be dismissed if they are actually carrying out work when there is a parting of the ways.

It is also worth considering that to defend the claim, the employer argued among other things that the employee abandoned their employment.

The company said the instruction to return the work shirts was not a dismissal. However, the Employment Court found that given the grievant was part way through a period of casual employment, and he was required to wear the company shirt on assignments, the instruction to return his shirts was indeed a dismissal.

Clearly the dismissal was procedurally unjustified because there was no proper investigation of the company concerns and, significantly, the worker had not been given a reasonable opportunity to respond before a decision was made.

The further argument that the worker had abandoned his employment by leaving the show without working did not find favour with the court. The court held that reaching such a conclusion required a proper enquiry first and that did not happen here.

In this case the failure to consult was not trivial, it was significant, and the result was that the worker was treated unfairly.

A lesson from this case is surely that casual employees must be treated with respect. An employer in a case like this must treat both their workers with understanding and consideration. It was certainly a highly emotional situation that occurred in the motel.

Here the employer seemed to show little respect for the grievant and legally they were caught out because they did carry out a dismissal and there was no fair process. From the point of view of human decency, this outcome will hopefully appeal to employers’ sense of fair treatment.