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Employers likely to be lenient with Cup fans

24 June 2014

Readers will no doubt be taking note of the Football World Cup under way in Brazil. The World Cup is regarded by some as the world's largest and most-watched sporting event. While New Zealand is not involved this time, our enthusiasm for the tournament does not appear to have dampened.

The tournament continues until mid-July and many of the games are scheduled for early to mid-morning. There will no doubt be many an employee who arrives late to work or watches games on their work computer. But what does the law have to say about this?

The starting point is that employees are paid to work and not to indulge their personal interests during work hours. They also have an obligation to arrive at their place of work on time. Employees who fail to meet these legal obligations can face disciplinary action.

Employers, however, are realistic and will understand that the World Cup comes along only every four years. No doubt employees will want to enjoy as much of the spectacle as possible so it is pragmatic for employers to adopt a measure of leniency.

So long as parties meet their obligations to act in good faith, and are open and honest with one another, there is no reason why a reasonable and practical arrangement that suits the employer and the employee cannot be worked out.

The risks for employees who breach their obligations and who fail to be open and honest with their employers are well documented in a case concerning Robin Muru and the Auckland Council.

Muru was employed to drive a sweeper truck and maintain the grounds at Auckland Airport.

He was relatively experienced and performed this type of work for the council and a previous employer for a number of years.

On November 13, 2010, Muru was working a night shift at the airport. At the beginning of the shift, Muru received a request to remove loose material which could impact on aircraft movements.

Muru undertook to follow the instruction; however, he did not do so. Attempts to contact and locate him were unsuccessful and his sweeper truck was found unoccupied.

As a result of Muru's failure to carry out the instruction, swirling litter prevented an aircraft from taxiing and it had to be towed. The airport promptly made a serious complaint to the council, which, in turn, began disciplinary action against Muru.

Muru provided a number of conflicting explanations to his employer.

First, he claimed his failure to remove the litter was due to it being too difficult. Then he said he was watching sport on TV and had left his radio in the sweeper truck. Finally, Muru suggested the battery in his sweeper truck was flat.

Unsurprisingly, Muru was dismissed.

He challenged his dismissal in the Employment Relations Authority.

The authority had little sympathy for Muru. It determined that he had chosen to watch television for approximately six of the eight hours he was rostered to work. The authority also found that Muru's actions during the disciplinary process suggested a desire to cover up his actions and confuse his employer. His dismissal was therefore justified.

Employers and employees who are open and honest should have no trouble coming to an arrangement that works for both parties. However, employees who take advantage of their employer's generosity and put watching sport ahead of their core responsibilities may be shown the proverbial red card.

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

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