In-house lawyer costs recoverable | Employment Law Update April

A union recently sought to recover legal costs from an employer following its in-house lawyer successfully prosecuting a personal grievance claim for an employee against the employer. The Employment Relations Authority applied an older decision of the Employment Court (O’Malley v Vision Aluminium Ltd (No 3) [1992] 2 ERNZ 1043) as a precedent in deciding to allow the union to recover the legal costs, despite the union not being a party to the proceedings.

Although the union’s in-house lawyer did not have an hourly rate and was paid a salary, the Authority ordered the employer to pay costs to the union on the basis of an hourly rate. The Authority started with a nominal hourly rate of $250 and reduced it to $180 taking into account the fact that the costs related to an in-house lawyer employed by the union. Noting that the hourly rate of $110 applied in O’Malley was back in 1992, the Authority considered that $180 per hour was both fair and reasonable and reflective of the experience of the lawyer in question. The length of the Investigation Meeting was five hours and the Authority in its discretion considered eight hours was a reasonable period of time to allow for preparation. On this basis, the employer was ordered to pay costs of $2,340 to the union.

See Miller v Kiwi Elderly Care Ltd trading as Kimberley Rest Home [2019] NZERA 462.