The Opotiki RSA must pay a wrongfully dismissed employee compensation and loss of wages. Photo Sven Carlsson OB4574-01

OPOTIKI Returned Services Association must pay a former employee lost wages and almost $10,000 in compensation.

The Employment Relations Authority has found Rui Leitao was unjustifiably dismissed from his long-time position as duty manager at the RSA in October 2017.

In a decision released last month, ERA member Eleanor Robinson ordered the RSA to pay Mr Leitao four months’ lost wages and $12,000 compensation – reducing the amount by 20 percent for the part Mr Leitao’s unintentional negligence played in contributing to the situation.

Opotiki RSA has said that in its current financial position, it is unable to meet any financial claims imposed.

Given these circumstances, the ERA has ordered the compensation be paid in five monthly instalments, the first due no later than December 22.

In making the compensation, Ms Robinson said Mr Leitao, aged over 70, had suffered considerable distress at the loss of his job, his health had suffered and he had lost confidence.

“He also suffered considerable distress as a result not only of the dismissal itself but due to the implications of the news of his dismissal in a small community in which the events took place.”

Mr Leitao lost his job after a making a mistake that resulted in the payout of two jackpots on a pokie machine in the RSA’s gaming area. The second jackpot of $871.80 was later returned to the RSA by the winner.

Winning combinations can be achieved on individual pokie machines. However, a jackpot in excess of $800 is reached when there is sufficient credit accumulation on a set of networked pokie machines.

Once a jackpot is paid out, the RSA’s procedure is that the employee will restart the jackpot credit accumulation. Otherwise, a second jackpot can be paid out without the credit having accumulated.

This is what happened on October 10, 2017. After paying out two jackpots on one pokie machine and a third jackpot on another machine, Mr Leitao became concerned and telephoned Peter Jackson, the RSA president at the time.

Mr Jackson determined that Mr Leitao had not cancelled the credit when he paid out the first jackpot, even though he had signed the report to indicate he had done so.

Mr Leitao believed he had cancelled the credit and suggested the machine was faulty, but a gaming machine technician later found it had been working correctly.

Mr Jackson invited Mr Leitao, by a hand-delivered letter, to a meeting to investigate the events of the evening, warning him that the investigation might result in future formal disciplinary action.

He informed Mr Leitao he was suspended and should not come to work prior to the meeting.

At the meeting, Mr Jackson explained the finding of the gaming machine technician and Mr Leitao described the procedure he followed when a jackpot was achieved and paid out.

Mr Leitao left the meeting believing a suggestion of more training had been accepted – a suggestion Mr Jackson denies accepting – and was shocked when he turned up for his next rostered day of work to be presented with a letter terminating his employment immediately.

The dismissal letter referred to the “substantial loss of RSA funds” even though the jackpot winnings had been returned.

Mr Jackson said he had consulted with the full Opotiki RSA committee and it had been the committee’s decision to terminate Mr Leitao’s employment as his behaviour had been “ongoing and irresponsible”.

The ERA found that dismissing Mr Leitao, a long serving employee of 12 years with a good performance record, was not a decision a fair and reasonable employer would have taken.