When employees go bad

Do companies have the short end of the stick when it comes to employment rights?

Employers beware the disgruntled ex-staffer.

Despite being an employer of hundreds (actually thousands) of staff in various capacities over the past seven years with SublimeNZ, I have never had any serious issues or disputes that ended up in court. For the most part my employment relationships have been pretty straightforward and ended peacefully. It would seem not all employers are so lucky and perhaps I have dodged a big fat bullet.

It is with dismay today that I read yet another headline about an employee getting a massive cash settlement over the way they were let go after doing something obscenely stupid at work. This case is not in isolation, but seems to be a recurring theme in the papers at the moment. The types of story I refer to include one about a part time babysitter who was let go by text message because she swore in front of the kids while speeding around town, a GM whose contract was not renewed (even after he was told it would not be renewed) and various employees who appear to have done a rubbish job on their trial day then told not to come back in. Fair enough? No way, not around here!

These disgruntled employees are getting huge payouts and taking some poor employers through the wringer very publicly, quite probably because they were crap at their job and someone in the office just wanted to get rid of them. What these managers or company owners didn’t seem to expect was for the employee to have the nous to use employment law to ‘get their own back’ and somehow receive compensation far in excess of what they probably would have earned, or contributed to the company for that matter.

Just imagine if these employees applied themselves as diligently to their job as they did to suing! Our system defends employees’ rights to the bitter end, and punishes the big bad employer who is just trying to protect their business interests. Frankly I think employers get the tough end of the bargain when it comes to employment.

Reading about these court cases (and many others if you do a quick search) has made me think about just how vulnerable employers are to the whims of employees, disgruntled or otherwise. My advice is that as an employer in any sized firm you have to be so careful about who you take on, how you deal with them during their stay, and most importantly how you let them go should the need arise.

There is some good reading at the Department of Labour employee relations website but in my experience the best protection you can have is a savvy commercial/employment law specialist on your side who checks every contract before it goes out the door, and advises you on the correct procedures should you need to discipline, retrain, or (God forbid) let someone go. Note: the same concern needs to be applied to interns as to senior executives. Both groups can give you an equal sized headache if they feel hard done by.

I would love to hear your stories of ‘employees gone bad’ or lessons you have learned about this matter. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

Go forth and conquer (just have a good employment lawyer on hand! If you don’t have one, I can refer you to mine).

Robert Bruce is the founder of experiential marketing agency SublimeNZ (now part of Professional Public Relations), and a regular contributor to Idealog. Contact him at

Comments or opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, Robert Bruce only. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of  SublimeNZ, Professional Public Relations NZ Ltd, or its management or employees. PPR NZ is not responsible for, and disclaims any and all liability for the content of comments written by contributors to this blog.

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