November 4, 2014

New Zealander Awarded $31,025 for Sabbath Dismissal

, South Pacific Adventist Record, with additional reporting by Adventist Review staff

A New Zealand company has been ordered to pay lost wages to a Seventh-day Adventist man who was fired for refusing to work on Sabbath.

Mark Meulenbroek was dismissed from his position at Vision Antenna, a company that installs television and audio systems in the city of Invercargill, in September 2012 after he declined to work on Saturdays.

The Human Rights Review Tribunal, part of New Zealand’s Justice Ministry, found that Meulenbroek “was terminated for reason of his religious beliefs,” and awarded him 40,000 New Zealand dollars (US $31,025) for lost wages, legal expenses, and emotional distress.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in New Zealand has taken an active interest in this case and welcomed the tribunal’s ruling late last month.

The finding “represents a victory for all people who seek to actively live out their faith as a loyal employee,” said Damien Rice, president of the South New Zealand Conference. “It sets a precedent in New Zealand that will help to protect the liberties of other workers in the future. We are also pleased for Mark for whom this has been a difficult legal struggle.”

Meulenbroek had worked at Vision Antenna since 2004 and was considered a “fantastic” worker by the Invercargill company, the tribunal said.

In 2011, he rejoined the Adventist Church, which he had left at the age of 16, and asked his employers to refrain from scheduling him on Saturdays so he could keep the Sabbath.

Despite accepting this request initially, Vision Antenna director Glen Stapley refused to give Meulenbroek all Saturdays off, saying his reasons for not working were “simply unacceptable.”

The tribunal, however, disagreed, saying that “as outside observers we cannot but note how badly Vision handled the request by Mr. Meulenbroek to not work on the Sabbath.”

It added: "A dedicated, conscientious and 'fantastic' worker was reduced to a 'zombie' state by Vision's failure to respect his religious belief," local television station TVNZ reported.

Vision Antenna can appeal the decision.

Government lawyer Robert Kee, who represented Meulenbroek in the case, said the tribunal’s decision would serve as a warning to other small and medium-size businesses that may not be familiar with New Zealand’s Human Rights Act.

"This is an important decision as it demonstrates employers' obligations under the Human Rights Act, which are often overlooked, particularly by small to medium sized businesses," Kee told local 3 News television.

Related links

TVNZ: “$40k for Employee Fired for Refusing to Work on Saturdays”

3 News: “Religious Man Awarded $40k”

Adventist Record: "Sacked Adventist Gets $40k in Compensation"