Serious concerns with conduct of 0800SACKED
In a decision dated 18 October 2010 the Employment Relations Authority found that Antoinette Cuthill-Coutts, an employment advocate with Employment Disputes Ltd, a company that is otherwise known as 0800SACKED, had been unjustifiably constructively dismissed. Of equal significance the Authority declared that it had no hesitation in dismissing counter-claims by the company against Ms Cuthill-Coutts which it described as misconceived. This decision was followed on 23 November 2010, by a decision on costs in Ms Cuthill-Coutt’s favour. The significance of these decisions is that they raise serious questions of public interest about how this company operates.
First, Employment Disputes Services Ltd (“EDS”) say on their website “If you want mature, trained employment law specialists to sort out your employment law problem in a quick, cost effective manner give us a call on ….. Over half of our advocates have law degrees and the ones that do not generally have at least 10-15 years of managerial experience. We recognise that employment law deals with very human circumstances and our advocates generally have a common sense attitude and significant life experience to assist in resolving disputes.”
The Authority’s decision discloses that Ms Cuthill-Coutts had demonstrated professional integrity in her dealings with clients. However, was she a mature, trained employment law specialist, did she have a law degree or, if she did not, did she have 10-15 years of managerial experience? The evidence was that she was a student who applied for the job in the Hawkes Bay through the Student Job Search programme in order to gain experience and to complement her qualifications in employment relations and disputes resolutions. Ms Cuthill-Coutts therefore did not fit the description of the people EDS says they employ.
And did EDS use a rigorous appointment process that would establish whether she fulfilled the criteria they promote on their website? It does not appear so because according to the evidence they did a phone interview.
Secondly, EDS has both a legal and professional duty to communicate properly with staff, particularly someone as inexperienced as Ms Cuthill-Coutts, and the agencies they deal with: This is the least that is expected. Ms Cuthill-Coutts resigned because she had experienced communication difficulties with EDS. She was inexperienced and needed advice. She tried to get some feedback on difficulties with a particular mediation but Mr Feist, the Director and owner of EDS, “never responded”. She experienced difficulties over her pay: It was late, at least three weeks late. She arranged to travel to Taupo to do a case. The file did not arrive on time. She repeatedly phoned Mr Feist to find out where the file was. He did not return her calls nor pay her for this work. When she gave notice of resignation she told him she had mediations scheduled for the following week. She asked if EDS had any other advocates in Hawkes Bay who could do them and said, if EDS did not, she would do them. He replied “No I don’t. Do next one then leave”. She tried to find out from him what would happen to the other cases. He did not reply. She decided to carry on with the cases, a decision the Authority described “as admirable”.
Thirdly, in its decision on costs the Authority said with regard to the way EDS conducted their defence that “EDS has not been responsive and communicative”. They did not attend mediation as directed after EDS themselves had asked the Authority to direct the parties to attend mediation. The Authority granted an adjournment to a scheduled investigation meeting because a witness for EDS was not available. The Authority held that “this was a delaying tactic” because when the meeting was held the witness was not called and instead an affidavit was produced.
Significantly Mr Feist had written the affidavit and witnessed it “as a Solicitor of the High Court”. However, on the NZ Law Society website he is not listed as a Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. Fourthly, EDS argued that each party should be responsible for their own costs and they should not have to contribute to Ms Cuthill-Coutts’ costs. While the Authority did not use these words, it must be said that this argument had no chance of succeeding and raises questions about EDS’s understanding of the law. The Authority put it best when it said “Costs do follow the event. Ms Cuthill-Coutts was successful in her claims and she defended a misconceived counter-claim. Indeed Mr Feist’s failure to cooperate with the Department of Labour and his failure to comply with the Authority’s timetable have hindered the Authority’s investigation process……Costs should be at the higher end of the range.”
EDS’s conduct potentially damages the reputation of all businesses who seek to provide legal services to people who otherwise would not be able to afford access to justice. Accordingly, the slapping the Authority gave EDS is deserved, although some might say was not hard enough. EDS must immediately fix the problems that have been exposed and they are welcome to use our website to apologise to the public and give the undertaking that is required.
Since writing this blog, we have discovered that 0800sacked continues to raise concerns. The most recent concern was their filing on behalf of an employee of a personal grievance with the Employment Relations Authority when in fact they had no instructions to do so. What was worse, however, was 0800sacked attached to the application a letter purportedly sent to two employers raising the grievance, neither of whom had received it. The employers had received a letter raising the grievance from an advocate in another city who was acting on behalf of this employee. We have had two further concerning experiences with 0800sacked that led to us requesting an explanation. They never provided one.
Published on Monday, May 26th, 2014, under Blog