However this temptation got the better of one employee who, after firstly cursing her manager, then told her to stick her job up her ... well, you can imagine the rest. But what happened next was less predictable.... the employee was awarded $10,000 in damages for unjustified dismissal.
In a recent case of Waaka v City Line (N.Z.) Limited trading as Valley Flyer, the Employment Relations Authority awarded
a Hutt Valley bus driver a total of $10,000 compensation for unjustified dismissal and unjustifiable disadvantage. Ms Waaka worked as a driver on the Valley Flyer buses. One day Ms Waaka unexpectedly needed to take time off to attend a tangi for a relative. As she was unable to arrange childcare, Ms Waaka took her two young children to work while she made leave arrangements. The depot manager asked why the children were at the bus depot and Ms Waaka was instructed to take her children home.
The conversation quickly went downhill. After cursing her manager, Ms Waaka was warned to mind her language if she wanted to remain employed. Ms Waaka then said “you can stick your job up your f****** arse” and walked out of the premises.
Valley Flyer, perhaps unsurprisingly, took the view that Ms Waaka’s statement was a clear indication that she didn’t intended to perform her role any more. As far as the company was concerned, she had resigned.
Ms Waaka brought a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal and unjustified disadvantage.
The Authority determined that as Ms Waaka had made this statement in the heat of the moment, it could not be considered an unequivocal statement that she had repudiated her employment agreement. The effect of this was that Valley Flyer had actually dismissed Ms Waaka.
The Authority stated that the bus company had an obligation as a fair and reasonable employer to seek an explanation from Ms Waaka as to the meaning of her statement before reaching any conclusion that she had resigned from her employment.
Another problem for the employer was that Ms Waaka’s manager informed Ms Waaka’s union soon after she left that they would not be conducting any investigation, there would be no meeting to discuss the matter and Ms Waaka had been dismissed without any further process. This was inconsistent with its argument that Ms Waaka had resigned.
The employment agreement provided for a set procedure for a disciplinary process. As Valley Flyer did not make any inquiries into Ms Waaka’s conduct and did not follow that process, the Authority determined that Ms Waaka had been unfairly disadvantaged.
Ms Waaka was awarded $8,000 as compensation for her unjustified dismissal which was reduced by half in recognition of her contribution, and a further $6,000 as compensation for being unjustifiably disadvantaged.
While many employers may shake their head at this type of outcome, the lessons here are clear:
- A resignation must be unambiguous and unequivocal for it to be valid. If words such as ‘resignation’ or ‘quit’ are not used, then check what the employee means by what he/she has said;
- If an employee resigns in the heat of the moment, allow for a cooling off period and then make further inquiries to make sure that he/she has in fact resigned; and
- If your disciplinary policy provides for a process, stick to it.