Pun­ish­ing a busi­ness whistle­blower

Kapi-Mana News - - CLASSIFIEDS - ALAN KNOWSLEY LE­GAL MAT­TERS

Train­ing and prac­tices, such as a fire drill, are im­por­tant parts of en­sur­ing staff know what to do.

Ig­nor­ing a man­ager’s health and safety con­cerns has been held not to be the ac­tions of a fair and rea­son­able em­ployer.

The Em­ploy­ment Re­la­tions Au­thor­ity has up­held an em­ployee’s claim for an un­jus­ti­fied dis­ad­van­tage and awarded lost wages of $5400 and com­pen­sa­tion for hurt and hu­mil­i­a­tion of $7000.

The em­ployee was en­gaged as a man­ager of a li­censed premises.

She raised con­cerns over fire ex­its be­ing ob­structed by boxes stacked over the ex­its, an exit door not un­lock­ing dur­ing a fire alarm and the emer­gency plan not giv­ing proper in­struc­tions.

The emer­gency plan re­quired pa­trons to as­sem­ble in the car park but the premises did not have a car park.

The man­ager also raised con­cerns about the serv­ing of al­co­hol to in­tox­i­cated pa­trons.

She found as a re­sult that her hours were re­duced on ros­ters to the point where she was given no shifts at all and the alarm code was al­tered with­out her knowl­edge.

Al­though she was never ac­tu­ally dis­missed, the au­thor­ity held that she was ef­fec­tively out of work due to the lack of ros­tered shifts and there­fore awarded her lost wages un­til she found a new po­si­tion.

Ob­vi­ously, the em­ployer here re­acted badly to the em­ployee’s con­cerns and did not ap­proach the sit­u­a­tion in a way that would have dealt with the con­cerns ap­pro­pri­ately.

That is ac­tu­ally quite a com­mon re­sponse as peo­ple let their hurt feel­ings get in the way of a dis­pas­sion­ate con­sid­er­a­tion of the is­sues.

How­ever, even worse was that in ad­di­tion to the em­ploy­ment is­sues over the way the em­ployee was treated, this case raised se­ri­ous is­sues about the health and safety pro­ce­dure of this work­place. Among them, fire ex­its were blocked; fire exit doors did not un­lock dur­ing a fire alarm as they were sup­posed to do, and the emer­gency plan had lit­tle rel­e­vance to the ac­tual premises.

The emer­gency plan may have been a cut-and-paste job that ticked the box for hav­ing a plan, but it ap­pears no one had given much thought to its ap­pli­ca­tion to the build­ing.

To be ap­pro­pri­ate an emer­gency plan must be ef­fec­tive.

Check out your busi­ness plan to en­sure it fits your cir­cum­stances.

You should con­sult with your staff on the plan and once it is in place en­sure that all staff are aware of the plan and what they need to do.

Train­ing and prac­tices, such as a fire drill, are im­por­tant parts of en­sur­ing staff know what to do and, as a les­son from the case re­ferred to above, if you are check­ing your plan or premises, make sure that fire ex­its are not blocked and that the doors do open when peo­ple need to use them in an emer­gency.

An­other thing that is com­monly over­looked, es­pe­cially in of­fices, is chem­i­cals in the kitchen.

Do you have dish­wash­ing or clean­ing prod­ucts un­der the sink? Con­sider the risk they may pose to young chil­dren vis­it­ing the work­place who may be left un­su­per­vised while their par­ent does some ur­gent work.

Child-proof caps and a lock on the cup­board are sim­ple and ef­fec­tive - and cost-ef­fec­tive - ways to min­imise the risk, but are of­ten not re­mem­bered in among the more ob­vi­ously dan­ger­ous things in the work­place.

Col­umn cour­tesy of RAINEY COLLINS LAWYERS phone 0800 733 484 www.rain­ey­collins.co.nz. If you have a le­gal in­quiry you would like dis­cussed in this col­umn please email Alan on aknowsley@rain­ey­collins.co.nz

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