2 Feb 2016

Cancer sufferer loses employment fight

6:54 pm on 2 February 2016

A woman whose job was given to someone else while she received cancer treatment has lost her case for unfair dismissal, and must also pay her former company $3000.

When Auckland administrator Corinne Tribe found out she had mouth cancer, she sent an email to her employer at J Scott and Company Timber saying she hoped to stay, but would understand if she was replaced.

Her doctor had told her her recovery could last up to a year, and would include speech and swallowing therapy and probably radiation therapy.

"Whilst I would dearly love to hope that the job would be there for me I appreciate that a

business cannot be run like that and that you probably need to move on, cut your losses and employ someone new," her email said.

"I am concerned that my ability to speak clearly, whilst not hindering the job itself, may make it difficult for a new employer to take a chance on me so if it was at all possible for me to keep in touch with the hope of anything that may come up at JSC I would be very grateful."

She was asked to confirm her resignation in writing but refused.

She sent another email days later: "I look forward to being back in the work place as the valuable employee that I have been this far."

Within weeks, the company hired someone else.

Mrs Tribe took her case to the Employment Relations Authority, which ruled her email was effectively a resignation, and she was ordered to pay the company's $3000 legal bill.

It rejected the suggestion Mrs Tribe's initial email had been written with particularly strong emotion.

"Quite understandably, Mrs Tribe's 14 September email described herself as feeling that she did not know 'which way is up' at the time, after the news she received on 12 September about the extent of surgery (and the year required for full recovery)," the authority said.

"However, the email was not written immediately in the grip of a reaction to the news on that day but after reflection over two days."

Council of Trade Unions' lawyer Jeff Sissons said clear communication often became difficult during periods of great stress.

"It's important for employers to show workers kindness, respect and understanding at times like these and not to rush into decisions," he said.

"The law is that employers need to weigh up the effects of the workers absence on the business against the worker's needs. Wherever possible, they should try to accommodate the worker and keep their job."

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