The family of a diabetic fruit and vegetable company worker wrongly fired after miscounting limes and grapefruit and falling asleep on his forklift say the stress of losing his job contributed to his death seven months later.
Christchurch man Robert Graham, 57, died two months before being awarded $12,000 for unfair dismissal by the Employment Relations Authority which found his former employer Turners & Growers acted unfairly.
The amount, for lost wages and compensation, will go to Mr Graham's estate following his death last October.
Mr Graham's daughter Deidre Isaacs, of Dunedin, said the decision was bittersweet because the process took its toll on her father.
"It was an awful way to go out and I think the stress definitely didn't help at the end. I just think it was really unfortunate that he had to go through that," she said.
Her father's job "was his life" and in the months after his dismissal Mrs Isaacs watched his health and mood decline.
"I found that really heartbreaking."
The miscounting of the fruit was simply a mistake and his falling asleep on the forklift was because of his diabetes, she said.
Mr Graham started with the company in 2002. His duties included unloading vegetable trucks, data entry and driving a forklift.
According to an ERA finding, he had no disciplinary issues until February 2011 when he received a written warning for signing off on a pallet of limes, later found to be six boxes short. Nine months later he got a final warning for "the miscounting of grapefruit". Then last March Mr Graham was fired after twice being caught sleeping on his parked forklift.
An employee who found him asleep on the first occasion said Mr Graham told him "he just dozed off".
"Shortly afterwards he approached me, asked me if he could go home as his diabetes was playing up and he felt sick and tired," said the man.
On the second occasion, it took some time to wake Mr Graham and he looked "terrible", said another worker.
During a disciplinary meeting Mr Graham said he couldn't remember sleeping and was just resting on the forklift but acknowledged his diabetes was affecting him. The company decided to send him to a specialist who concluded Mr Graham's sleep problems were no barrier to the safe performance of his duties.
However, Mr Graham was advised by his employer that sleeping at work was deemed serious misconduct and he was dismissed.
The ERA concluded that was unfair and noted Mr Graham's sacking caused him to have a tearful "meltdown" because his age and health meant he had few other work options.
"Mr Graham had significant health issues but he had managed them in undertaking his role," said ERA member Helen Doyle.
"When Mr Graham was found asleep on his parked up forklift on two occasions on one day his main explanation for sleeping was that he was unwell on the day in question and his diabetes was playing up. A fair and reasonable employer could have placed weight on that explanation."
No one from Turners & Growers was available to comment. The company has been ordered to pay the $12,000 to Mr Graham's estate.