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Employee dismissed for $23,000 phone bill


The Employment Relations Authority (‘the Authority’) has found that a senior civil engineer, fired when he returned late to work from a three week holiday in Sri Lanka, with a $23,000.00 bill on his company cell phone, was justifiably dismissed.

Virtually all of the phone charge was for 1.5GB of roaming data which was used on various applications including iTunes, Facebook, Google, Snapchat and Gmail. There was no authorised or essential business purpose for the use of the phone.

The Authority found that the employee was aware of the high cost of roaming data; as he had received texts from Spark when he entered Australia and Sri Lanka warning him of the charges. He had also purchased a $5 SIM card so that he could send texts and make calls while he was in Sri Lanka.

The Authority held that the dismissal was justified - as the employee had not returned to work on the expected date, and had not advised his supervisor of the situation - but the employer, Mighty River Power, hadn’t followed the correct dismissal procedure. The employee was not given a fair chance to explain his bill. He was provided with a detailed Spark data use report, but given less than 24 hours to study the information and comment on it before being dismissed.

Mighty River Power was ordered to pay the employee $6,000 in compensation for unjustified disadvantage. Its counterclaim, that the employee should pay $23,000 in damages for the phone bill, was dismissed. The Authority determined that the phone use was not deliberate but resulted from ignorance and carelessness on the employee’s part.

The employee was justifyably dismissed, but was unjustifyably disadvantaged by how his employer acted during the disciplinary process.