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A repairman fired for supplying cannabis to a workmate gets compensation

An appliance repairman sacked for supplying cannabis to a workmate has been awarded about $12,000 in compensation for distress and loss of income.

The Employment Relations Authority ruled that Corey Wilkinson was unfairly dismissed by Saxon Appliances in Christchurch last March after the discovery of a suspicious message on his company cellphone.

The message from a workmate asked if Wilkinson was “able to get any stuff”.

When Saxon general manager Geoff Trotter confronted Wilkinson about the message, he said he had acquired two tinnies the previous year which he had either sold or given away to a workmate.

At a subsequent meeting, Wilkinson asked if he was going to lose his job, to which Trotter said there was a possibility, as set out in a letter two days earlier.

Wilkinson said that he would start looking for another job and was asked to take his personal belongings and hand over his keys, job book, cellphone and company jacket.

He was dismissed later that month.

In its ruling issued on Wednesday, the authority found that the initial meeting had been semi-formal and Wilkinson should have been given due notice of the allegation and its potential consequences.

Authority member Philip Cheyne also ruled that Saxon had failed to give Wilkinson the opportunity to seek representation and to provide copies of notes from the meeting to his lawyer.

In its dismissal letter, Saxon said it had a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal drug use at work, although the authority found it had no policy on drug use outside work.

Wilkinson had not sold drugs in the workplace, as Saxon had alleged, but had given his co-worker the cannabis off-site and outside work hours, Cheyne ruled.

Saxon was ordered to pay three month’s lost income and $6,000 in compensation.

The company, which employs 28 staff, was disappointed with the ruling.

“It’s just so unbalanced it’s not funny,” spokesman Michael Hodges told the New Zealand Herald.

“We think employers are being shafted.”

The authority was “heavily weighted in favour of the employee” and the ruling showed companies needed clear policies on alcohol and drug use in their employment agreements, he said.

Wilkinson said on Wednesday he was in a new job and “just moving on and upwards” after the stressful dismissal.