August 18, 2008

Tony Veitch and TVNZ

Some six weeks before being charged with assault and injuring with reckless disregard, Tony Veitch resigned from his positions with TVNZ and Radio Sport. The relevations in the media about a violent incident some years ago and his own admissions in relation to this matter had probably made his position untenable in any case, but they do raise some interesting questions about the extent to which an employer can hold an employee responsible for their behavior in a context that is “not related to their employment”. In another case noted on this site I described how the courts usually require a “nexus” of relationship between the behavior and the workplace before they will uphold an employer in disciplining a worker for bad behavior in an otherwise private capacity.

There are a number of possible grounds that might allow an employer to discipline a worker for bad behavior even when it is not apparently connected to the workplace.

One ground might be contractual. Some Individual Employment Agreements contain a provision to the effect that the employee must do nothing to bring the employer into disrepute, and the courts have on ocassion held that that term is implied in an Employment Agreement even when it is not stated explicitly in that agreement.

I don’t know what was in Tony Veitch’s Individual Employment Agreements with TVNZ and Radio Sport in relation to not bringing them as employers into disrepute, but in this instance, I believe that the Courts would be likely to accept the argument that the “not to bring into disrepute” term was implied even if it was not explicitly stated. I would certainly be happy to argue on those grounds because the employers concerned are prominently in the public eye, and especially because Tony Veitch, as their “frontman” represents them in a very real sense. If the “not bring into disrepute” term was in the contract, or if the ERA (or the Court) held that the term was implied, then disciplinary action could certainly be justified.

A second ground that could be argued (I believe sucessfully) in Tony Veitch’s case would be that the publicity surrounding the matter and the nature of the allegations made it impossible for him to do his job. He could not front the program, increase the ratings, maintain good relationships with sponsors and advertisers etc. Whether the employer would have to show a decline in ratings to justify removing Veitch is debatable – perhaps an expression of concern from a sponsor or an advertiser would be enough.

So TVNZ and Radio Sport could almost certainly have taken disciplinary action against Tony Veitch and dismissed him. But they didn’t. Instead, after some discussion (and presumably negotiation), he resigned.

Since Veitch went quietly (if you can call the minor furore at the time quietly), rather than being sacked and taking a Personal Grievance to the ERA, it is likely that some sort of settlement was arranged. His employers were on a hiding to nothing, and their interests were best served by cutting him loose and getting him away from their programs asap. They would not have wanted a messy fight with the inevitable attendant publicity dragged out for months. Since such settlements are always confidential, we will never know if a settlement was made or how much the employers paid to have Tony Veitch resign if one was.