Magazine publisher ordered to pay $23,000 to former employee who was fired during Covid-19 restructuring

Metros Publishing Group produces the Canterbury lifestyle magazine Metropol.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

Metros Publishing Group produces the Canterbury lifestyle magazine Metropol.

A magazine publisher has been ordered to pay $23,000 to a former employee whose job was cut during a restructuring in response to Covid-19.

Denise Hunter worked as a production assistant at Christchurch-based Metros Publishing Group from September 2017, having worked for the previous owner and publisher as a graphic designer since 2001.

The company produces the Canterbury Metropol lifestyle magazine, founded in 1998, which reports on culture, food, health and fashion. The magazine is free and has a circulation of approximately 52,000 copies.

During the 2020 lockdown it was decided that the metros would be restructured and after conducting staff feedback sessions a proposal document was produced.

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The role of Hunter – who was described in the proposal as an advertising designer – would be eliminated and a new role of marketing graphic designer would be created.

Hunter was confident she could take on the new role and considered herself “an excellent candidate.”

She met with company director Murray Dempsey on August 5, 2020 and provided examples of positive feedback she had received from customers. She also showcased an award she won for the magazine when she received third place for ‘Best Graphic Designer’ at the New Zealand Community Newspaper Awards in 2019.

According to a report by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), the meeting did not go well and “Dempsey did not seem engaged during the presentation and did not ask questions”.

After the meeting, Hunter went on sick leave due to stress.

Christchurch-based Metros Publishing Group has undergone a restructuring as a result of Covid-19.  (File photo)

Simon O’Connor / Stuff

Christchurch-based Metros Publishing Group has undergone a restructuring as a result of Covid-19. (File photo)

During his absence, his position was abolished on August 14 and his employment was terminated with four weeks’ notice.

A lawyer for Hunter argued that the new role of marketing graphic designer was “very similar” to her role and that she should have been offered it without having to apply.

Dempsey did not accept this and said the two roles were “fundamentally different” and it was decided that Hunter “lacks skills, knowledge or ability on several of the essential requirements for her to be competent and perform well. in the role”.

“Even with training and support, she was not able to acquire the skills, knowledge or abilities quickly enough to be effective in the role,” the ERA report said.

The new role was announced around August 21, but Hunter did not apply.

She filed a personal grievance on November 12, 2020.

Hunter said “she was terminated without cause” and sought reimbursement for lost wages and four weeks’ unpaid notice.

Metros Publishing Group disputed that Hunter’s dismissal was unjustified and said “a proper business case for the change” was made.

An ERA fact-finding meeting was held on June 2 this year and the decision was published last week.

Bradley McDonald, who was acting for Hunter, said she was “targeted and her termination was the result of an ulterior motive”, which concerned the fact that weekend work was no longer necessary and “the unsatisfactory nature of several announcements”.

ERA member Helen Doyle said she “could not safely conclude from the evidence” that “Hunter rather than his position was deliberately targeted for redundancy”.

Hunter was without a job or income from August 19, 2020 until she got a new part-time job on April 1, 2022.

Metros Publishing Group was ordered to pay Hunter $5,016 gross for lost wages and $18,000 in compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

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