Northland lab scientist fails in bid for reinstatement

A medical lab scientist dismissed from her work at the Whangārei Hospital has failed in a bid for interim reinstatement.
Photo Tania Whyte

A medical lab scientist for Te Whatu Ora in Northland who says she was dismissed due to safety concerns regarding her level of competency has lost her bid for interim reinstatement.

However, Lei Yang’s substantive claims of unjustified disadvantage and unjustified dismissal are still pending with the Employment Relations Authority.

She started working for Te Whatu Ora in the Whangārei Hospital medical laboratory in November 2006.

Te Whatu Ora undertook a review of the lab operations in January 2020 and restructured it after issues were identified. Following the restructuring, Yang started work as a medical lab scientist in the microbiology department.


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In 2021, she was offered additional training by the new head of microbiology, Richard Tuff, which she declined. She then made a formal complaint about Tuff, saying she felt his demeanour at the meeting was threatening and intimidating.

After a meeting with pathology services manager Steven McCullough, Te Whatu Ora emailed her that a training plan would be established and confirmed this in a letter.

Yang alleged her employer did not consult with her on the implementation of the training plan or its structure.

Between June and December 2022, Yang underwent an extensive structured training plan to achieve competency sign-off from the heads of departments in their particular discipline.


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She was signed off in only two of the eight sections she needed to complete.

Yang was invited for an investigation meeting to discuss a range of issues, including her competency levels. Te Whatu Ora alleges that at the meeting, Yang agreed for her training records to be reviewed by consultant clinical microbiologist David Hammer. Yang claimed she was unjustifiably suspended as she was instructed to stay away from work and was not consulted about being stood down.

Yang alleged the lack of communication and continued failure to warn her that punitive action may occur at the conclusion of the training plan was a breach of Te Whatu Ora’s duty of good faith to her.

Te Whatu Ora disputed her claims and opposed her application for interim reinstatement.

Authority member Andrew Gane said under Section 125 of the Employment Relations Act 2000, reinstatement was the primary remedy but it must both be practical and reasonable to do so.

McCullough submitted there would be serious safety concerns if Yang were to be reinstated, saying it would also effectively result in the loss of two staff members and adversely impact the lab in a variety of ways.

Gane said he accepted that the longer Yang was not working, the harder it would be for her to practise in her area of expertise, but the potential disruption for Te Whatu Ora, if interim reinstatement was granted, must be taken into account.

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