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Dragging up the ancient past - by Tristam Price


Some managers just can’t let go of a grudge. Two men parted ways with their employers in 2014. Years later, they were sued in the ERA.


The first case was Joben Ltd (formerly Graz4u) v Roughan. It was without merit, and dismissed in 2019 by then ERA Chief James Crichton. This happened to be Mr Crichton’s last case.


Mr Roughan worked for Graz4u, a brokering company that worked with dairy farmers and graziers, from August 2013 until his resignation in October 2014 for family/health reasons. He was, as at mid-2019, the primary caregiver of his five children, on a benefit, and legally aided for defending the unspecified claim. However, director John Benefield went ahead and claimed that Mr Roughan caused Graz4u the loss of “at least $183,192.61”.


We’ll quickly run through Mr Roughan’s list of alleged breaches of his employment agreement:

  • Took on six weeks of secondary employment as an artificial insemination technician. It was approved at the time, was not a conflict of interests, and it didn’t impact on the hours worked at Graz4u apart from shifting his start and finish times back a couple of hours.

  • Failed to return a used pair of gumboots and a cellphone after his resignation.

  • Made Mr Benefield grumpy by suggesting a discount on a particular deal, which was reluctantly accepted.

  • Was the driver of a Ford Ranger for work purposes, for which he had arranged servicing as expected, although the automatic transmission failed and cost $7,000 to replace.

  • Used more diesel than other reps due driving relatively long distances, sometimes with a trailer.

Unsurprisingly, witness evidence included Graz4u’s poor reputation in Otago and Southland. However, Mr Benefield can’t really complain that he didn’t get a fair go – the Investigation Meeting took three days!


Limitations Act 2010


The purpose of the Limitations Act is “to encourage claimants to make claims for monetary or other relief without undue delay by providing defendants with defences to stale claims”.


11.1 It is a defence to a money claim if the defendant proves that the date on which the claim is filed is at least 6 years after the date of the act or omission on which the claim is based (the claim’s primary period).


Mr Benefield filed his Statement of problem at least four years after Mr Roughan’s employment ended, but within six years, so the Limitations Act would not have applied.


However:


Hamilton City Council are suing former employee Allan Halse for allegedly breaching a non-disparagement clause in a settlement agreement. The original dispute officially ended on 14 February 2014, the date of a completed mediation. Soon after leaving the Council, Mr Halse went into the employment advocacy business. In late 2020, Mr Halse, through his company Culturesafe NZ Ltd, was engaged by a client who happened to be an employee of Hamilton City Council. He described what he believed to be a severe workplace bullying problem, on Culturesafe’s Facebook page. The Council, aware of his previous employment with it, got his HR file, dug out a Record of Settlement from the 2014 mediation, looked at the non-disparagement clause therein, and initiated a claim in the ERA based on his alleged breach of it.


Trying to bring proceedings on a stale matter, ie: more than six years old, is unusual. That raises the question of how Hamilton ratepayers would feel if they knew their money was being spent soothing the ruffled feathers of Council managers accused of bullying. We suspect the Office of the Auditor General would similarly take a dim view of public entities failing to consider the OAG guidelines on sensitive expenditure.

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