A management accountant at BT Mining, part of the Bathurst Resources Group, has been reinstated on full pay until the Employment Relations Authority can determine whether he was unjustifiably dismissed – even though he will not be required to work.
The man, who is in New Zealand on a work visa, was employed in May but was dismissed at the end of his three-month probation period. There is an interim non-publication order covering his name and other details and he is referred to by the authority as FJW.
The company said he was not working at the level required but the accountant said the dismissal was unjustified.
BT said it took a number of steps before it dismissed him and strongly opposed his interim reinstatement. It had already replaced him with another accountant.
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The authority heard the man had been interviewed twice by a recruitment agent, then had three interviews through Zoom and in person, with BT personnel.
In one of those Zoom meetings, his camera was off and BT told the authority that it had crossed the mind of one of the interviewers that someone else could have been answering the questions because the man’s work did not match the impression given in the interview.
BT management account and finance business partner Aaron Bennett and group manager, site commercial Craig Kinane both said they noticed some “red flags” regarding the man’s skills, capability and knowledge early on.
That included not understanding the concept of accruals, which they described as an accounting basic.
BT told the authority that despite extensive training, the man was still a long way short of what was expected by his second month in the job.
He was operating at an assistant accountant level rather than a management accountant earning the top of the pay band for that group.
“The affidavits of the various company accountants and mine manager provide evidence of FJW seemingly struggling to perform his job,” authority member Nicola Craig noted.
“References include one finding it ‘extremely odd’ that FJW seemed not to have the basic accounting knowledge to deal with a wrong code, him ‘clearly struggling with basic accounting’ and seeming ‘a million miles’ from being able to undertake the tasks expected.”
For his part, the man said there was poor communication to him of tasks and their due dates, people misunderstanding him and important context not being referred to.
The company also raised concerns about the man’s working from home, tardiness and lack of availability during working hours.
Craig noted that the man does not have permanent residence in New Zealand so could not receive the unemployment benefit. He told the authority that his salary was his only source of income and his wife was earning the minimum wage while they had three children to support.
The company, for its part, argued that if he were reinstated it would not receive the benefit of his work because he could not perform the duties required in the position description.
Kinnane and Bennett said they were stressed during the period he was employed, trying to keep an eye on him, help him lift his game and taking over some of his work.
“Their perspective is that they expended significant energy and effort to support and assist him but were confronted by a combative response with denial of shortfalls. Mr Kinnane and Mr Bennett are worried about the impact a reinstatement would have on their and other accountants’ workload.
“There is a lack of confidence that FJW will be able to carry out the role to the required standard. It is seen as imposing an unfair workload on other accountants to have to check and correct FJW’s work.”
Craig said while the burden of having the man back in the workplace appeared substantial, the potential impact on him and his family of being out of work would not easily be remedied by damages. He needed a steady job to be able to apply for a skilled migrant resident visa.
Craig said she would be able to hear the full case in about April.
“The details may need to be examined but suffice it to say, FJW’s unjustified dismissal case does not appear particularly strong. His arguable case for permanent reinstatement is relatively weak,” she said.
The most just temporarily solution was for FJW to be returned to the payroll, “without providing his labour in return”.
If the man’s dismissal was found to be justified, or he was not entitled to any remedies, BT could require him to pay back the salary paid under the ERA order, she said.