Awards of compensation for hurt and humiliation have tended to be low in the past. That is particularly so in relation to claims for unjustified disadvantage.
But in the right case, even compensation for a disadvantage claim can be significant – as a recent judgment from the Employment Court has shown.
WHAT IS UNJUSTIFIED DISADVANTAGE?
First, let’s step back and get our terms straight.
What is an unjustified disadvantage claim?
It is one of several personal grievances that employees can raise against employers.
The gist of a disadvantage claim is that you feel like some action your employer took was unfair. As a result, you were disadvantaged in your employment in some way.
You don’t have to be dismissed to be disadvantaged. You can raise a claim for unjustified disadvantage while still employed.
Examples of claims for unjustified disadvantage include:
- getting suspended from work unfairly
- having your pay docked when it should not have been
- being unfairly demoted
- your employment terms being changed without your agreement
WHAT AWARDS ARE TYPICAL?
If they agree you were treated unfairly, they can order your employer to compensate you. Such compensation is for the hurt and humiliation you suffered from the disadvantage.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment publishes a regular summary of the compensation awards the Authority makes. For some time, a typical award of compensation for any grievance has hovered around $5-6k. But that includes cases of dismissal too, which are usually compensated at a higher rate.
Grievances that are not about dismissal, such as disadvantage claims, tend to attract much lower awards. Awards of $1-$3k are not uncommon for such claims.
THE RIGHT CASE, A LARGE AWARD
That’s why the award of compensation in a recent judgment of the Employment Court is surprising.
In that decision, an employee received $30,000 in hurt and humiliation compensation for being unjustifiably disadvantaged.
The case concerned a police officer who was not appointed to the role of station seargent. The non-appointment was not in accord with Police policy and was unfair.
The police officer subsequently suffered from serious stress, ultimately leading to a breakdown. He later disengaged from the Police force.
The Court considered that had the disadvantage not occurred, he would likely have remained employed with the Police.
Taking those serious consequences into account, an award of $30,000 was appropriate, said the Court.
Unjustified disadvantage claims are sometimes treated as a lesser sort of grievance. The poor cousin of unjustified dismissals.
But the case discussed above shows that disadvantage grievances can still be devastating. Where they are, significant awards may be appropriate.