In March this year, the Human Rights Review Tribunal (“HRRT”) awarded a woman $98,000.00 for injury to feelings from a privacy breach involving her previous employer. This sends a clear warning that privacy is no trivial matter.
The woman in question had posted a picture on social media of a cake she had baked for a private dinner party, which featured the name of her previous employer and several profanities. Her friends on Facebook (150 people) would have been able to see it.
Her previous employer became aware of the picture and obtained a screenshot of the cake, which was then circulated by the ex-employer around recruitment agencies. The employer also sent an internal email to employees setting out background to the ex-employee’s resignation and pressured her new employer to terminate her employment.
In cases before the Employment Relations Authority, it is very rare to see awards for injury to feelings above $30,000.00. However, the HRRT awarded $98,000.00 to the woman for injury to feelings. The HRRT was aware that this was a new benchmark award and made comment that award levels need to move as understanding of the law develops and in accordance with changes of perception and economic factors, such as inflation.
The Tribunal has recognised some informal banding systems for low awards (up to $10,000.00), medium ($10,000.00 – $50,000.00) and high (above $50,000.00).
In this particular case, there was no current employment arrangement between the parties to the complaint before the HRRT. However, the level of the award granted by HRRT may see employees choose that forum over the Employment Relations Authority where there is a complaint over something which is actionable in both forums such as discrimination cases.
With the signalling of significantly increased awards in the Human Rights Review Tribunal, employers and others need to be particularly mindful about personal rights to privacy and non-discrimination and not treat those lightly.
HRRT decisions are accessible on line from the Ministry of Justice website which also has a schedule of awards granted.