Defense Force employee suspended for inappropriate behavior goes to court

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By Jeremy Wilkinson, Open Justice reporter for

A military employee suspended during an investigation into improper conduct has sued the armed forces, calling their action a “witch hunt.”

New Zealand Army soldiers in an Australian Army vehicle during the mission exercise for Task Force Taji 3 at RAAF Edinburgh, with approximately 300 Australian soldiers, sailors and pilots preparing for deployment to Iraq during the exercise at RAAF Edinburgh in Adelaide, South Australia.

Photo: NZDF / Included

The employee, who is under name suppression, alleges that the New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) illegally suspended him while it began a labor investigation into him.

The allegations against the employee set forth in an Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision released today are vague, but include concerns about his conduct towards another employee and about his conduct outside the workplace.

The NZDF told the ERA it tried several times to meet with the man to discuss a total of five employment allegations, but he refused to attend.

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It initially suspended the man without salary, but changed that decision, allowing him to continue to be paid in full during the suspension.

Earlier this year, Open Justice reported an incident in which a NZDF employee drunkenly groped five of his colleagues during a team building event in 2020.

That employee was not resigned while the complaint was being investigated and instead was allowed to work with one of the women who complained against him.

The NZDF said in a statement at the time that suspension was not a form of disciplinary action and could only lawfully suspend an employee in very limited circumstances.

“Suspension will depend on the circumstances and the nature of the allegations… It is usually unjustified if there is no reasonable chance of further misconduct,” the statement said.

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In this case, however, it was deemed justified and the man was resigned while an investigation into his conduct was launched, which the man said was illegal.

In his comments, the employee said the allegations against him were “old” and that the outcome was predetermined, meaning it was essentially a “witch hunt.”

The man said he had not been provided with all relevant information about him and that he could not access that information because he was locked out of his corporate email and other systems.

He also claimed that some of the information against him was obtained illegally.

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The Defense Force said it acted reasonably under the circumstances and that at least one of the allegations were considered serious, and that all of the concerns taken together could indicate a pattern of inappropriate behavior.

It said it had a duty to suspend the man to ensure a safe working environment for his staff.

The Labor Relations Department did not find it unreasonable for the NZDF to launch an investigation into the man.

However, the man also claims that he was unwell, so the ERA ordered him to prepare a medical report to prove that he was medically fit to participate in the labor investigation against him.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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