I have often wondered what sort of person becomes a human resources manager or corporate employment lawyer in New Zealand. Now, with the cases of Sean Plunkett and Jim Salinger in front of the ERA, coming on the heels of my own experiences, my beliefs are being confirmed. This is what I believe.
NZ HR managers are hired for their sociopathic and bullying tendencies. They are devoid of compassion, understanding and basic human decency. They take delight in the flaws and failures of others, and many are pathological liars (witness NIWA HR accusations against Dr. Salinger that he was “sparse with the truth” (i.e.a liar), Â or, in my case, my employer’s HR toadies attempting to fabricate a case of prior warnings and incidents (there were none relevant to the case in question) and then accusing me of falsifying leave forms (which was not only irrelevant but which other administrator’s contradicted). In the Radio NZ case Plunket had no contractual restrictions on his writing a column elsewhere yet he was threatened with dismissal for doing so. It appears that a personality clash with his boss (which is what was really at the heart of my case) is the real issue, with the boss attempting to control Plunkett’s behaviour outside of his contractual obligations. Dr. Salinger and myself received no formal warnings prior to our respective (in my case legally unjustified and in his case surely unjustified) dismissals. In both of the latter cases, relatively minor breaches of protocol got us summarily dismissed without warning or attempts at compromise or conciliation. Basic notions of fairness would indicate that in all these cases the employer acted in bad faith and then vilified the employee to cover up their own lack of ethics and adherence to procedure. Basic understanding of democracy would reveal why this is not only unacceptable as a social practice, but in fact inimical to the democratic form. After all, New Zealand is supposedly a robust democracy, so its labour relations framework should be quite different from that of China, Singapore, Iran or Saudi Arabia. Alas, on the essentials, it is not.
In general, HR types and their hired employment lawyer guns basically use the strategy of character assassination and deep pocket spending to outlast and break down the employee (and, in some cases, his/her union). When settlements are reached, they often reflect employee financial constraints or psychological trauma regardless of the positive merits of their case (and in which, in the case of both NIWA and Radio NZ as well as mine, the legal fees and/or the (eventual) settlement offer of the employer were/will be paid by taxpayers).
In fact, I wonder when do defamation cases apply in employment disputes? How can HR managers knowingly and deliberately make blatantly false accusations of employee dishonesty and malfeasance in open hearings that are reported on by the press, and yet escape legal action against them for defamation or slander? In my case all of the accusations against me were proven false, and yet the stain on my reputation has remained ever since (and prevented my securing alternative employment in my profession). Although I have no doubts that Dr. Salinger and Mr. Plunkett will win their cases or receive settlements, I wonder if Dr. Salinger will be able to secure employment in his chosen field with another government agency or private firm in NZ ? (Mr. Plunkett has the advantage that he has not been fired so does not have to look for work). Where is the justice when an employee wins a case but is not allowed back into their field of work (and in my case forced to leave NZ), and/or where his/her character has been impugned in the pubic consciousness?
In any event, I have noted in the past that there is a sort of mean-spirited aspect to the NZ character, something that emerges in politics, the corporate world and in education (among other fields). I am now coming to the belief that not only do HR managers (and employment lawyers working for firms) epitomize these nasty traits, but in fact are hired precisely because of them. The reason? Given the structure of employment law in NZ, these traits serve a useful purpose for employers regardless of the costs inflicted on employees and those that chose to represent them.
PS: To be clear. I am not referring here to small business employers, who do not have the money to hire HR teams or corporate lawyers to do their dirty work (or at least dismiss their useless workers). The lack of litigation money and legal funds makes small business owners Â more vulnerable to adverse ERA or Employment Court decisions,and therefore more cautious when approaching dismissals. The large corporates (state or private) have no such concerns, given that employment law favours the structurally powerful rather than fairness under the law.