Case study: Dismissed without notice

6 November 2020

A man accused of smoking cannabis at work has failed in his attempt to get his job back after he was immediately dismissed without notice following a drug test.

But Aaron Brown was awarded three months’ wages and $1500 compensation after the Employment Relations Authority found he was unjustifiably dismissed from his job at Ballance Agri-Nutrients Ltd in Mount Maunganui.

On December 12, 2013 Mr Brown and his workmate Shaun O’Connor went to a local shopping centre for their lunch break, a decision from the ERA said. The next day Mr Brown’s supervisor Alex Beck called them to a meeting and said he had received a phone call from a member of the public who had seen them smoking “pot” in Mr O’Connor’s car.

The pair were told they had to undergo a drug test, and a refusal of the drug test would amount to serious misconduct. Mr Brown’s drug test came back non-negative and he was immediately suspended.

At a meeting the next week Mr Brown told his supervisor he smoked marijuana recreationally, but not at work, the ERA report said. He was dismissed from work.

Employment Relations Authority member Anna Fitzgibbon said in her decision that Ballance did not have the grounds to request Mr Brown undergo a drug test. She said a complaint from a member of the public wasn’t a reasonable cause to make the two men submit to a drug test.

Mr Beck told the authority that Mr Brown had exhibited unusual behaviour on the day of the drug test, which supported the reasonable cause test. However, Ms Fitzgibbon did not accept this.

Mr Brown was awarded three months’ lost wages, but Ms Fitzgibbon did not order his reinstatement. She said reinstatement would not be appropriate because Ballance no longer trusted Mr Brown as an employee after he admitted to recreationally smoking marijuana at home.

He told the authority he had stopped smoking marijuana after he was suspended from work but failed to provide any evidence of this. Mr Brown was awarded $1500 in compensation.

The authority earlier found Mr O’Connor was unjustifiably dismissed. He was awarded $10,857 for lost wages, and $3000 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feeling.

A spokeswoman for Ballance was not immediately available for comment.

If you feel you have been dismissed without notice, we urge you to contact us immediately, in confidence.