Wednesday, 19 August 2009

New Zealand Employment Law is defective [Updated]

I've seen lots of anecdotal evidence that it's difficult for firms to fire problem employees under the Kiwi Employment Relations Act. The procedures are often described as onerous.

Here's a great one. Disgruntled employee of Inland Revenue (the Kiwi IRS) drives his car through the plate glass first floor windows of the IRD's Christchurch Office, then tells the attending police officers that he had every intention of doing it.

IRD's notification letter to David Theobald, the driver, is hilarious and depressing. The whole thing is documented here, including photos of the crash scene, the police report, and the letters from IRD to Theobald subsequent to the crash. Relevant excerpts:

From the police report:
The defendant admitted the facts as outlined and explained his actions stating 'I had every intention to do that. I've thought about it and knew exactly what I was doing. I had warned them that someone could drive through there with a bomb in the car and create another 9-11, as they had no security measures.'
Seems pretty clear-cut. IRD's response:
Commencement of an Employment Investigation

1. Information has come to my attention which indicates that you may have intentionally driven a vehicle through Inland Revenue's Christchurch building on Saturday 15 August 2009. I am commencing an employment investigation in to this matter.

2. I am concerned that your conduct may be inconsistent with the Code of Conduct (contributing to a safe workplace and ensuring personal activities do not discredit Inland Revenue) and/or, the Standards of Integrity and Conduct, and/or your obligations to Inland Revenue, and that if substantiated, this conduct may amount to serious misconduct.


3. Given the nature of the allegations I am considering whether, or not, suspension is appropriate. Your employment agreement provides for this to be on pay.

Note that the "Mick Elborado is innocent" group on Facebook now has 128 members.

HT: Drinkwater, and commentator Lew there.

Update: IndyMedia gives an alternative take which, if accurate in all details and contains no omissions, would suggest Theobald would have had a decent case against IRD in employment court well prior to his driving the car through the window. I don't know much about HR, but the story sounds like a legalistic risk-averse employer deciding to jump through all the hoops necessary to dismiss an employee, with the formal procedures undertaken being sufficient to push Theobald over the edge. My best point estimate, but with a very wide confidence interval around it given my lack of knowledge of either the case or of exact details of employment law.


  1. Your headline is a noble attempt at understatement greater than part (2) of the IRD letter.

  2. I don't have much of a problem with the IRD letters. They will just be form letters. I mean it's pretty obvious in this case, but there would be cases where employees were accused of crimes/misconduct where it would be a lot murkier. It's probably a lot safer/cheaper/easier for everyone involved if the IRD just sends out the same letter to everyone that they are investigating rather than starting to tailor the letter to specific cases..

  3. Hi Crampton -- Mick here -- find a single taxpayer I've bullied -- when I collected debt I was criticised for recommending too many write-offs -- and I guess you may just stand to, uh, benefit, from even more strangulation of employees -- no vested interests I guess?

  4. Hey Phillip -- you don't just, uh, think, that maybe just a little change in wording here would have stopped Patrick coming off as a laughing stock. The English language is capable of great precision.

  5. @Philip: isn't that such boilerplate is necessary, even in such cases, suggestive of that there's a problem?

  6. @Mickle: I am utterly agnostic as to the merits of your grievance with IRD. But driving through the store window on purpose - if that's not grounds for summary dismissal, it's hard to imagine what is.

  7. I think you're misrepresenting NZ employment law. Purposely driving into a workplace is grounds for summary dismissal here. Patrick is either following departmental procedures or an idiot.

  8. @matariki: My guess would be procedures, and my further guess is that those procedures are set up as consequence of having been burned too many times, or having seen others so-burned, in employment court.