Part-time mag designer gets $11K ERA payout

A part-time designer for a small magazine company has won an ERA payout of more than $11,000 for constructive dismissal.

Former Court of Appeal judge Sir Ted Thomas represented Helen Scott in the Employment Relations Authority against Methode Media.

Sir Ted declined to comment on the case, as the appeal period has not expired.

Ms Scott was awarded $5828 in lost wages and $6000 for humiliation and loss of dignity.

Methode Media publisher Lorraine Thomson runs a small publishing company that has about four employees. Its titles are NZ Fitness and Travel Digest.

She contracted Ms Scott who had worked for MML previously, for a 12-month graphic design position in June 2012.

The contract for the part-time position included a clause about a three month trial period.

In November 2012 she required surgery for a medical condition.

A freelancer was employed in her absence. Although Ms Scott originally anticipated taking two weeks off work, complications meant there she required another week off. Ms Scott had emailed Ms Thomson requesting this extra time.

In reply Ms Thomson said during her absence she had considered restructuring the graphic design position into a fulltime job with the other half of the time working on advertising sales.

The email told Ms Scott to take the extra week off and asked her to let MML know if she wanted to apply for the new role.

Ms Scott responded saying she did not have the skill level to fit the sales role.

Ms Thomson replied that, in order to keep the magazines going, more sales were needed.

“The restructure has nothing to do with your illness, just economic viability, unfortunately of keeping Methode Media operating,” the letter said.

Ms Scott said she felt hurt, upset and betrayed by the email and she became depressed and unable to sleep.

At this point she engaged Sir Ted, who raised the concerns with MML. After the parties failed to agree at mediation, the case was brought to the ERA.

Employment Relations Authority member Eleanor Robinson said there was no trial period and that Ms Scott was a permanent employee.

Ms Robinson reviewed the correspondence and found Ms Thomson had breached her duty of good faith to discuss or comment on the restructuring of the position.

She found that MML’s actions were constructive dismissal as it was reasonably foreseeable that Ms Scott would resign.