Keys in a locked door.

The Employment Relations Authority finds Virtuoso Strings Charitable Trust Board Acted Unlawfully

February 28th, 2024 - Matt Belesky

Buckettlaw is pleased to have represented the successful employee in pursuing her employment concerns in the Employment Relations Authority (ERA). The ERA recently awarded an employee, a former events and public relations coordinator at Virtuoso Strings Charitable Trust, $25,000 in compensation and $10,571.70 in lost wages.

The employment dispute arose after the employee lodged a formal complaint with the Trust in April 2021. The employer subsequently arranged a facilitation between the complainant and the respondent to her complaint however that facilitation was unsuccessful. The complainant did not hear anything further from her employer in relation to her complaint, and was later shocked to find the Trust had closed her complaint on the purported basis it had been investigated and resolved. That news caused the employee significant distress and resulted in her going on sick leave. 

After learning her complaint had been closed, the employee requested the Trust address her unresolved complaint by investigating. The Trust declined that request, and did not take any other steps to resolve it. Once the employee was declared fit to return to work, she attempted to do so only to learn that in her absence the locks to the workplace had been changed. The employee was subsequently informed she would not be provided with a new set of keys, and there was more generally no need to be at work, because there was (purportedly) no work for her to perform.

The ERA found the Trust had: 

  1. Believed it had investigated the employee’s complaint but was unable to point to any investigatory steps taken beyond an initial discussion with the employee about her complaint and a facilitation.

  2. Believed the employee’s complaint was resolved following the facilitation however that was inaccurate, and the Trust relied on a verbal indication given by another worker who was not called to give evidence.

  3. Maintained its stance that an investigation had taken place when the complainant employee later raised concern that her complaint had not resolved, despite lacking evidence to support such a stance. In doing so the Board did not provide a meaningful response to the serious concerns raised, and the lack of resolution and persistent disregard for the complainant employee’s attempts to have her concerns resolved were unexplained. The ERA determined, “An employee may expect their employer to take their concerns seriously and to engage with them in an appropriate manner rather than brushing inconvenient concerns aside.” The above amounted to a failure by the Trust to treat the complainant employee fairly and that failure caused disadvantage to the employee in their employment. 

  4. “Persisted in marginalising her concerns and her distress” once the employee learnt that her complaint had been closed by the Trust and raised concern that her complaint remained unresolved. This was unjustified as the Trust was obliged to sufficiently investigate matters, and to genuinely consider the employee’s explanations before dismissing her claims. The Trust’s actions in this regard caused disadvantage.

  5. Failed to let the employee know of the complaints other staff had raised about her, which constituted information relevant to the continuation of employment. The Authority determined that meant the employee was required to make important decisions about her employment in the absence of this relevant information, and therefore she was deprived of the opportunity to comment on what was said about her and more generally put her explanation forward.

  6. Breached the employee’s right to work by refusing to supply the employee with a new key after the locks were changed, and this constituted an unjustified suspension. The ERA determined that the Trust’s explanation that there was no work available does not provide a sufficient reason; that it ought to have consulted with her about the impact on her employment rather than barring her from the workplace. 

The Authority upheld three of the unjustified disadvantage personal grievances pursued, finding that they were related but separate.

In awarding the employee compensation and lost wages the Authority determined the employee’s distress and inability to work, as confirmed by her doctor, were a direct and foreseeable result of the Trust’s refusal to fairly engage with her. The Authority acknowledged the employee felt unsafe, ignored, marginalised, anxious, frustrated and let down by the Trust’s actions and omissions.

If you believe you have been unfairly treated in your employment,contact Buckettlaw right away. We offer a free 10-minute initial discussion to ascertain whether we can be of assistance. If in doubt, give us a call, because you may very well miss out on being able to take a claim given most grievances need to be raised within 90 days of event or incident of concern.  


Read the full Determination here.

Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

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Matt Belesky

Matt Belesky is an experienced employment lawyer providing practical and commercially focused advice. He has expertise in various areas of employment law, including disciplinary and performance issues, workplace investigations, and health and safety. Matt represents clients in mediation and court proceedings. In his free time, he enjoys exercise, film, music, and spending time with friends.

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