Record compensation award could trigger claim shift

by Samantha Woodhill07 Oct 2016
Soaring compensation awards in the Human Rights Review Tribunal may be triggering aggrieved employees to pursue claims under the Human Rights Act, rather than under the Employment Relations Act.

Damages for distress hit a record high earlier this week, after it was found that Colin Craig deliberately and repeatedly breached confidentiality terms of a settlement agreement entered into with his former press secretary, Rachel MacGregor.  She was awarded $120,000 in the Human Rights Review Tribunal this week, for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

But, the average compensation awards under the ERA are still only in the range of $5,000-$10,000.
“It does seem there is now a growing divergence between level of awards coming out of the Human Rights Review Tribunal and those coming out of the Authorial Court under the Employment Relations Act,” Simpson Grierson employment law partner Phillipa Muir told NZ Lawyer.

“There is a disparity at the moment between some of the more significant awards coming out of the Human Rights review tribunal for various wrongdoings than the upper awards coming out of the Employment Relations Authority or the Employment Court.”

Muir said this is all despite the perception that the Human Rights Review Tribunal than that Employment Court, which is fully resourced to deal with cases all the time and does so promptly.  She also said that going through the Human Rights Review Tribunal could even save employees money, saving the filing fee and the off chance that the case could be prosecuted by the director of human rights proceedings.

“There could be significant cost savings too,” she said.

It’s likely this year that the court will look to implement will look to implement a uniform limit to the amount awarded for damages, Muir said.