An Auckland accountant was sacked for sending "confrontational" emails with words in red, in bold and in capital letters.
Vicki Walker, who was a financial controller with ProCare Health, has been awarded NZ$17,000 for unfair dismissal, and plans to lodge an appeal for further compensation.
She is now speaking out, calling for greater protection for white-collar workers from the financial, emotional and mental stresses involved in a dispute with a big corporate employer.
"I am a single woman with a mortgage, and I had to re-mortgage my home and borrow money from my sister to make it through," she said. "They nearly ruined my life."
The Employment Relations Authority ruled that Walker was not fairly terminated from her position after sending the emails to co-workers.
ProCare told the authority Walker - who was fired in December 2007 after two years of employment - had caused disharmony in the workplace by using block capitals, bold typeface and red text in her emails.
She had also acted provocatively in seeking to view complaints laid against her by colleagues.
But Walker said they talked about a number of emails she had sent, yet used only one in evidence. The email, which advises her team how to fill out staff claim forms, specifies a time and date highlighted in bold red, and a sentence written in capitals and highlighted in bold blue. It reads: "To ensure your staff claim is processed and paid, please do follow the below checklist."
As part of her compensation, Walker was awarded nearly $6000 in lost wages for the 13 weeks between leaving ProCare and finding a new job, but she says she didn't find fulltime work until October 2008.
Walker was also awarded $11,500 for any harm caused through her dismissal.
"To say that [email] is confrontational is ridiculous," says Walker. "I have spent thousands defending myself and there are so many issues that are unresolved that I want to take them up on."
Authority member Alastair Dumbleton said Ms Walker received no warnings, and while she had contributed to disharmony in the workplace it was not to the extent that dismissal was fair or reasonable.
She had been a capable and competent employee, he said. ProCare did not have a style or etiquette guide for employees using email, so it was not clear what was regarded as unacceptable communication.
ProCare did not respond to a request for comment on the compensation ruling.