Manager Left to Manage his Own Leave
General / 25 May 2015
The recent Employment Court case, Rainbow Falls Organic Farms Limited v Rockell overturned the Authority decision to award $42,793.12 in lost wages and found that Mr Rockell had not shown he had worked the extra weekends or public holidays that were claimed.
Mr Rockell was dismissed from his position of Farm Manager at Rainbow Falls in May 2011. The dismissal related to Mr Rockell tipping and/or lopping off horns of several of the cows against the Farm Owner, Mr McKenzie’s, wishes. Following his dismissal Mr Rockell claimed a considerable amount of money was owed in wage arrears in accordance with section 131 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 (the Act). Mr Rockell claimed that he:
Worked a full day on every public holiday, even when the cows were dry (equating to 52 days),
Accrued 10 weeks annual leave, having had no annual leave in the first half of May 2007, only two weeks annual leave in 2008, 2009, and 2010 and no annual leave in 2009,
Worked 68 weekends which he was otherwise entitled to have off.
Employment Court Decision
The Employment Court analysed section 132 of the Act which states that where an employer has failed to keep wage and time records and that failure has prejudiced the employee’s ability to bring an accurate claim, the Authority or Court may, unless the defendant proves that those claims are incorrect, accept as proved all claims made by the employee in respect of the wages actually paid and hours, days and time worked. The Authority had no trouble relying on this section in favour of Mr Rockell, however the Employment Court chose to focus on the word ‘may’ and decided that the section was discretionary rather than mandatory.
The evidence established that there was never any requirement imposed by the plaintiff for Mr Rockell to work on a weekend he would normally be entitled to have off. Mr Rockell was in a managerial position and ran the farm on a day-to-day basis. He confirmed in cross examination that he organised his own leave around his work commitments and was effectively in complete control.
Mr McKenzie’s evidence, which the Court accepted, was that Mr Rockell was never required to work on any weekend that he would normally be entitled to have off and that he was never informed that Mr Rockell had worked on a statutory holiday. Mr McKenzie believed that Mr Rockell was taking leave when the farming commitments allowed.
It is clear from the judgment that Mr Rockell did not come across as a credible witness, making a large number of admissions while under cross examination. The Judge also noted that it was simply not credible that, if Mr Rockell had leave owing (particularly significant quantities of leave), he would not have raised it much sooner, rather than waiting until a very late stage.
Judge Inglis went so far to say that even if she accepted that Mr Rockell did not work public holidays and failed to take annual leave or take days in lieu as claimed (which she did not), it is clear that that election was entirely his own.
Judge Inglis concluded that she was not satisfied that Mr Rockell actually worked on the public holidays or weekends claimed, or that he had any outstanding annual leave entitlements as he asserted. She chose not to apply s 132 of the Act in favour of Mr Rockell. The only monies that the Court awarded were the unpaid notice period which came to a total of $4,583.00 plus interest. This is a far cry short of the $42,793.12 that was originally awarded in the Authority.
While this case did turn out in favour of the employer, it is a timely reminder that timesheets and wage and time records are so important, especially when you are a Farm Owner with limited day to day contact. Had the employee had proof of public holidays worked, and leave taken, the outcome may have been significantly different. If you struggle to keep these records or keep up with the legislation in regards to leave and public holidays, consider outsourcing your payroll. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like more information about a payroll provider.
Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek guidance from your employment lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.