The Media love reporting on scandalous details of employment disputes that are before the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) and Employment Court. They trumpet headlines like “Sacked worker who took worthless magazine gets $9,000”. However, many employers and employees choose to avoid the glare of publicity by resolving employment disputes with settlement agreements.

Settlement agreements are confidential. They keep matters from the glare of publicity. Settlement agreements often have a term preventing either party from speaking badly of each other, known as a non-disparagement provision. Several recent ERA decisions have examined the issue of breaches of these non-disparagement provisions in settlement agreements.

In Kea Petroleum Holdings Limited v McLeod

[2014] NZERA Wellington 113, a settlement agreement between the parties included a term that Ms McLeod would not “disparage or speak ill of the company…or its officers.” However, Ms McLeod posted articles on Facebook, including allegations that Kea’s Managing Director had made “false statements” and “disrespected shareholders by lying to them.” Kea sought a financial penalty against Ms McLeod for breaching the settlement agreement. The ERA found that Ms McLeod’s statements regarding the Managing Director were disparaging. The ERA also observed that Kea paid a “substantial sum of money” to Ms McLeod to resolve an employment relationship problem. In return she agreed not to pursue her personal grievance and not to disparage or speak ill of the company. The ERA found Ms McLeod breached the settlement agreement, and ordered her to pay a penalty of $2,000.

In Jacks Hardware and Timber Limited v Beentjes [2015] NZERA Christchurch 29, the parties signed a settlement agreement with a non-disparagement provision. Mr Beentjes then sent text messages to a current employee calling the Director of Jacks Hardware a “sociopath”, alleging the current employee was lying, calling another staff member a “sycophantic sociopath” and accused Jacks Hardware of hushing up his allegations. The ERA found the text messages reached the non-disparagement provision and were flagrant, deliberate and ongoing. The ERA imposed a penalty of $2,500 against Mr Beentjes.

2017-05-19T12:17:28+00:00 June 8th, 2015|