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  • Randy Buckley

Employers Need to Explain Their Reasoning - Et Tou v Singh

In the recent case of Et Tou Incorporated v Sher Singh, the Employment Court of New Zealand examined significant issues in handling employment disputes. Mr. Singh, a union organiser for E Tū, challenged his dismissal following allegations about his interactions with a business owner, HVF. This case sheds light on the importance of procedural fairness and the potential benefits of mediation in resolving employment conflicts.


Arguments

E Tū told the court that Mr. Singh compromised himself and the union by playing multiple roles (support person, mediator, adjudicator) in a dispute, which they considered unethical. They also argued that his communications with HVF were inappropriate, damaging the trust and confidence between employer and employee.


Mr. Singh said that his dismissal was unjustified and that he was unfairly disadvantaged. He told the court that his actions were in line with community dispute resolution practices and not in his official capacity as a union organizer. He complained about E Tū’s failure to conduct a thorough investigation and the shifting grounds for his dismissal.


Judge’s Decision

The court found E Tū's actions unjustified, citing procedural failures and a lack of proper investigation. The judge said that E Tū attempted to rewrite history by claiming in court that there were other factors in play that were not reflected in the letter of reasons for Mr. Singh’s dismissal. The judge said this approach was problematic and reinforced the employer's lack of justification for the dismissal at the time the action was taken, stating: "Reasons cannot be retrofitted to a decision to justify it."


Costs Incurred

Mr. Singh incurred $14,685.57 in initial legal costs and an additional $7,142.49 covered by legal aid, totaling $21,828.06. The court awarded him a contribution of $11,500 towards these costs. E Tū, on the other hand, had to cover its own legal expenses and the contribution to Mr. Singh. This serves as a cautionary tale for anyone engaging in litigation: the winner rarely recovers all their costs, and the loser often pays significantly.


The Role of Mediation

This case underscores the potential for mediation to resolve disputes more effectively. Early mediation could have addressed the misunderstandings and procedural issues before escalating to litigation. Specifically, mediation at the initial complaint stage or before the decision to dismiss could have provided a neutral platform for both parties to negotiate and possibly reach a resolution that better protected all parties, including Mr. Singh, E Tū, and their client HVF.



The Et Tou v Singh dispute highlights the importance of fair procedures in employment disputes and the value of mediation as a tool for resolving conflicts efficiently. Employers must ensure thorough investigations and clear, consistent communication to justify their actions. Mediation can offer a constructive alternative, helping to resolve issues before they escalate, saving time, money, and relationships.



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