Builder awarded close to $45,000 after ‘disgraceful’ treatment by employer

A construction company has to compensate a builder close to $45,000 after falsely telling him he was being investigated by ACC and firing him.

The actions of Hawke’s Bay company Infinite Building Solutions (IBS), owned by Richard Stanley Burns, have been labelled as “disgraceful” by the Employment Relations Authority, which investigated the unjustified dismissal case.

Builder Sidney Eastham was awarded a total of $43,896 for lost and incorrectly deducted wages, costs, and hurt and humiliation for the company’s treatment of him.

On February 24, 2020, Eastham fell from scaffolding on a worksite and suffered injuries to his head, back, and arm.

He immediately informed IBS and was taken to hospital. He provided a medical certificate declaring him unfit for work until March 8.

On March 3, Eastham texted IBS pointing out his first week’s wages hadn’t been paid.

IBS responded “…had a call this morning from an ACC investigator after you were apparently found working yesterday. I have been advised everything has been frozen until the investigation is complete.”

Eastham immediately called ACC and was told he was not under investigation.

He again messaged IBS asking for his pay and saying he would have to come and collect his tools to sell so he could pay bills and buy food.

He provided another medical certificate on March 4 that stated he was unable to work until March 31.

On March 11, Eastham received a letter from lawyers representing IBS terminating his employment again accusing him of being on ACC and working for another company.

“We have become aware that ACC are now investigating your claim. You have quite clearly abandoned your employment with Infinite Building Solutions,” the letter read.
“Your employment is now terminated.”

Michael Loftus from the ERA called ACC and found the claims that Eastham was being investigated were incorrect.

“They also record that on March 4 Paula Burns [the wife of IBS’ owner] told ACC Mr Eastham …is not longer wanted/needed back at work.”

The ERA described claims that Eastham had abandoned his employment as “total nonsense”.

“For an employer to assert abandonment it must first attempt to confirm the employee has left… IBS knew exactly where Mr Eastham was, why he was absent, and had an indication about how long he would be away.”

Loftus said the allegations made by IBS were “ill-founded”.

“In fact, I would go so far as to say they constitute a disgraceful attempt to disparage Mr Eastham absent any credible evidence.”

The investigation revealed correspondence between IBS and Eastham with IBS maintaining Eastham was working while on ACC and stating there was a police investigation into other allegations the company was making – which included claims of criminal wrongdoing.

Eastham denied the validity of all claims and the ERA stated neither ACC nor the Police had taken any action.

The ERA noted ACC accepted Eastham’s claim as a work-related accident.

Of the $43,896 payment awarded to Eastham, $20,000 was for hurt and humiliation.

Eastham said he was hurt and stressed by the false accusations made against him, which were aggravated by the fact IBS simply “wanted him gone for some unknown reason”.

Loftus awarded the full compensation and said IBS was still making unfounded accusations against Eastham.

“I have already labelled IBS’ conduct disgraceful and note the campaign to disparage
and denigrate Mr Eastham is ongoing with new and previously unheralded accusations of poor workmanship being raised as recently as 15 April 2021,” Loftus said.

“IBS has engaged in an ongoing campaign to besmirch Mr Eastham’s integrity and
competence while failing to support its claims with any credible evidence.”

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