The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ordered Yoon Cheol Hong to pay Auckland Transport (AT) $11,500 following a determination that found Mr Hong was not unjustifiably dismissed from his job as an Auckland Transport parking officer, neither was he unjustifiably disadvantaged before his dismissal.
Mr Hong worked as a parking officer, patrolling Auckland city streets and issuing infringement notices for vehicles parked illegally.
AT required, and trained, its officers in various ‘de-escalation’ techniques to manage members of the public who abused or threatened parking officers. The primary technique was described as ‘detach and walk away’.
AT held concerns because Mr Hong made comments which confirmed AT’s fears that Mr Hong would, while on patrol in the streets, sometimes challenge abusive members of the public rather than ‘detach and walk away’.
The incident that triggered the dismissal process was when a man swore at Mr Hong and threatened to break his neck after getting a parking ticket. Mr Hong called for Police assistance during the incident. AT’s concern was that Mr Hong had refused to follow lawful and reasonable instructions issued by them which placed his own health, safety and welfare together with some of the wider parking team at considerable risk which was completely unacceptable to them.
Mr Hong had told AT when he reached a ‘trigger point’ he would not observe de-escalation methods due to his own views on what was and was not tolerable. AT were concerned that Mr Hong was likely to respond in ways that made inflammatory or potentially inflammatory situations worse. This meant AT had lost trust and confidence in Mr Hong.
The Authority said that it was within the range of reasonable responses for AT to conclude what Mr Hong deliberately did, and would likely continue to sometimes do, was contrary to instructions and was serious misconduct.
Auckland Transport sought $36,500 from Mr Hong to pay back what it had spent to defend itself in the unjustified dismissal case; $35,000 for a two-day investigation meeting and $1500 in costs to oppose the interim reinstatement application.
Auckland Transport’s actual legal costs were said to total $55,868.
Over the course of the employment dispute, Auckland Transport had offered Mr Hong two settlement offers prior to the case being heard by the Authority. Both offers, one for $12,500 and another of $15,000 were not accepted.
The authority ruled Mr Hong’s refusal of these settlement offers were cause for a “steely” approach in awarding costs, hence the award to AT of $11,500.