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Telecom sacking over sick leave wrong, Employment Court finds

Telecom adopted an “inappropriately suspicious stance” when dealing with a former help desk worker’s sick leave, the Employment Court at Auckland has found.

Employment Court Judge Mark Perkins says Madhukar Narayan was unjustifiably dismissed by Telecom following its investigation into a medical certificate.

Mr Narayan represented himself in the Employment Court earlier this year after the Employment Relations Authority had dismissed his personal grievance claim.

He had been working as a broadband help desk worker at Telecom for more than two years when he was dismissed for serious misconduct.

In the Employment Court Mr Narayan made a raft of claims including that Telecom treated him badly, withdrew a promotion and acted in a violent way toward him.

He also claimed Telecom discriminated against him on the basis of his ethnic and national origin.

After a holiday in Fiji, Mr Narayan became ill and deferred his return to work. The medical certificate he later produced was disputed by his superiors and, following disciplinary procedures, he was dismissed.

Telecom said it was suspicious of the medical certificate because it was partly printed and partly handwritten.

Telecom customer care manager Ricky Henry and another officer undertook their own investigation by calling hospitals in Fiji to determine whether the certificate was real, and eventually dismissed Mr Narayan.

Judge Perkins found the decision by Telecom to dismiss Mr Narayan was not justifiable. Telecom adopted an “inappropriately suspicious stance” in the matter from the outset.

“There was no real basis upon which Telecom could have finally concluded, as it eventually did, that the certificate was a fake and that Mr Narayan was deceiving them.”

The judge said there was simply insufficient evidence to substantiate assertions of racism.

“While it is clear that there was tension between Mr Narayan and Mr Henry, I am nevertheless not prepared to accept that Mr Henry’s motives for carrying out the investigation were as Mr Narayan suggested,” Judge Perkins says in the decision. 

While the judge awarded Mr Narayan four weeks' salary and $7000 for personal distress, he found that Mr Narayan had not been as forthcoming with information as he should have been, and reduced his awards by 10%.

Telecom general manager human resources  Danielle George says the company has decided to accept the judge's decision and will not lodge an appeal. 

"While we still stand by all our actions, this has been a long and difficult process for us and for Mr Narayan, and we do not wish to stretch it out any further."

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