Some background
Mr Greer was an experienced ski patroller, who had already worked for the Temple Basin during a previous skiing season. Some time around May 2014 he agreed to work with them again as a senior ski patroller. The agreement was that he would work 6 days on / 1 day off for a fixed daily rate, but any paid work was only to start once the ski season opened. In the meantime he was permitted to use the mountain lodge to get some experience on the mountain for a rescue course that he was attending, in return for which he was expected to carry out some volunteer work.

The incident

A dispute arose between Mr Greer and his direct manager Ms Berry before the ski field was even open and therefore before he had actually done any paid work. Ms Berry asked Mr Greer to assist her in digging a trench that was to be used by a training party the following day. There was disagreement between them in the necessity for the trench to be as wide and deep as Ms Berry had requested, and Mr Greer left the trench work to Ms Berry and returned to the lodge after she told him to “carry on”. There was a further argument a couple of hours later when the two met at the lodge, with Ms Berry telling him to “pack up his things” and leave the mountain that day and that she would contact him if they still needed him once the ski field opened. Mr Greer was not, however, called to work when the ski field eventually opened and he eventually emailed Ms Berry claiming that she had breached the terms of their employment agreement by not calling him for the start of the ski season.

Mr Greer then took the matter up with another member of the ski club committee, Mr Toon. who insisted with Mr Greer that he had not been fired but suggested instead that he stays away from the ski field on paid leave due to it being “unrealistic” for the two of them to be working in such close proximity to each other under the circumstances. He also said that he will be carrying out an investigation into the matter and that he will get statements from everyone concerned and ask for Mr Greer’s response to these. Mr Greer declined the offer of paid leave, insisting that the employment relationship had been invalidated due to serious breaches of trust and faith.

The outcome

After taking a statement from Ms Berry, Mr Toon changed the investigation into a disciplinary one and Mr Greer was advised that a number of allegations were being raised against him following the incident with his manager. He was advised that his employment was under threat if the allegations were upheld and that he had the right to seek representation before responding. Amongst other things, Mr Greer was accused of being indifferent to safety concerns, of being insubordinate to his manager and of not showing the “all in style of employment expected at a club field”.

Mr Greer’s employment was terminated as a result of this investigation and he raised a personal grievance for unjustified disadvantage in his employment for not being called in for work at the start of the season as had been agreed. He then raised a second personal grievance for unfair dismissal.

The consequences

The Employment Authority found that Mr Greer was disadvantaged in his employment when he was not contacted to start work when the ski field opened as had been expressly agreed. The Authority also found that Mr Greer was unjustifiably dismissed from his employment due to Mr Toon insufficiently investigating the allegations that were raised against Mr Greer, and for him not genuinely considering Mr Greer’s response to the allegations prior to dismissing him.

After deductions were made due to Mr Greer’s own contribution to the events that led to these events, the employer was ordered to pay Mr Greer a total in excess of $16,000 made up of lost wages, holiday pay and benefits that he would have earned over the skiing season, and as compensation for Mr Greer’s humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

The learnings

  • The cost to an employer of unjustifiably terminating an employment relationship can be very high, irrespective of how long or short that relationship actually was
  • The start of employment does not always coincide with the ’employee’ doing paid work. In this case the member of the Authority found that Mr Greer became an employee “on or around 18 May”. This was when they had originally signed the employment agreement despite also agreeing that his paid services would only begin once the ski field opened, which it eventually did in mid-August
  • The contract that is signed by both parties does not always reflect the true relationship. In this case the contract referred to the employment as being ‘casual’, but it was clear that the intention was for the employee to work 6 days on / 1 day off while the ski field was operational, which would indicate a contract of a fixed term nature rather than a casual one
  • Asking an employee “to leave” can have very serious consequences and should never be done in the heat of the moment
  • Be very clear in your intentions and communications when asking someone “to leave” the work place. There are proper processes to follow when suspending an employee, so always make sure you know what these are and follow the right steps when doing so
  • Be thorough in your investigations, genuinely consider all sides of the story and follow the correct process before taking the ultimate decision to dismiss