Kindergarten Workplace Bullying Results in $100K Payout

5 October 2017

A bullied kindergarten teacher has been awarded almost $100,000 after the Employment Relations Authority found she was unjustifiably dismissed.

The Authority found that the teacher “Mrs T”, had been bullied by her manager who had a track record of bullying other workers.

After laying a formal complaint in regards to the bullying, Mrs T was put on paid special leave so that the kindergarten could carry out an investigation. The kindergarten upheld Mrs T’s complaint and disciplined “Ms X”, the manager involved.

The Authority was told by the kindergarten that Ms X denied she had bullied Mrs T and was not prepared to apologise for her actions. This led to Mrs T feeling “panic stricken” about returning to the same work environment in which the bullying had occurred. The kindergarten then effectively told Mrs T that if she wanted to return to work she had to agree to abandon all potential legal claims against it and accept the kindergarten’s return to work plan, without actually providing a copy the plan to Mrs T. This was set out in a letter to Mrs T which also stated that if she did not wish to return to work on that basis then the kindergarten would “treat that as a resignation”.

Throughout the investigation, the kindergarten’s positon was that Mrs T must have resigned because she was on notice that failing to comply with its return to work plan, which was to be incorporated into a section 149 Record of Settlement, would be treated as a resignation.

The Authority member did not accept the kindergarten’s submissions that created a situation where Mrs T freely, genuinely or voluntarily resigned and found that there was no dispute that it was the kindergarten that brought up resignation, not Mrs T. The dismissal was found to be both procedurally and substantively unjustified.

Mrs T gave evidence to the Authority about the considerable distress and humiliation she had suffered as a result of her unjustified dismissal. Mrs T’s husband also corroborated her evidence and explained that he had noticed dramatic changes in her after her dismissal.

Mrs T also tried to mitigate her loss by moving her and her family out of the area in an attempt to find work. This resulted in her incurring the stress, uncertainty and the cost of selling her family home and moving out of the region in an attempt to mitigate her loss by moving closer to potential employment opportunities.

The Authority Member stated that this was an “appropriate case where there needs to be a significant level of distress compensation awarded to Mrs T to reflect the significant humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings she has suffered.”

The kindergarten was ordered to pay Mrs T $15,000 compensation for humiliation and loss of dignity and hurt feelings in addition to her legal fees and nearly 17 months of lost wages.

(Quigg Partners, 28 September 2017)

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