Social media – unfair dismissal

Singh V Aerocare Flight Support Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 6186

Social media unfair dismissal. A decision by the Fair Work Commission has outlined the issues relating to employees making public comments on Facebook outside of work hours however it has also highlighted the necessity for employer to ensure that matters such as this are properly investigating before jumping to a conclusion.

Mr Nirmal Singh was a casual baggage handler employed by Aerocare Flight Support, an aviation ground handling and services company. It is important to note that Mr Singh possessed an Airport Security Identification Card and was authorised to work within the restricted security-sensitive areas of Perth Airport.

Mr Singh was dismissed by Aerocare after it was discovered by co-workers that he had made posts on Facebook that appeared may have expressed radical views. In one post, Mr Singh linked to an article posted by an Australian Islamic group and included his own commentary, being the words “We all support ISIS.”

Prior to his employment being terminated, Mr Singh attended a meeting with Aerocare management who alleged that his Facebook posts were contrary to the Aerocare social media policy and, given the nature of his job, represented a security risk. Mr Singh claimed that the posts had been sarcastic, that he was opposed to ISIS and extremism, and he was sorry that his posts had been misinterpreted.

That meeting was adjourned to allow Aerocare to review their notes and consider Mr Singh’s explanation. Approximately 10 minutes later, the meeting recommenced and Mr Singh was informed that he would not be offered any further shifts and his employment was effectively terminated.

Mr Singh subsequently made an application to the FWC for unfair dismissal.

In the decision, Commissioner Hunt confirmed that Mr Singh’s post was in breach of Aerocare’s social media policy. It stated that “[it is not] acceptable for employees in the relevant airport environment to post what appears to be support for a terrorist organisation and explain it away as sarcasm, comedy or satire. Mr Singh did a very stupid thing.” The FWC also stated that if Mr Singh had in fact confirmed that he was a supporter of ISIS, it would have no hesitation in finding that the Facebook post was a valid reason for dismissal.

Commissioner Hunt commented that:

  • It was unsatisfactory that Aerocare had failed to properly investigate the complete news feed of Mr Singh’s Facebook account. If time and attention had been taken to review the news feed, Aerocare would have discovered that Mr Singh was not, in fact, a supporter of ISIS.
  • Mr Singh could have been invited to explain his recent Facebook posts to Aerocare, which would have taken no more than 1-2 hours. Such an explanation would have satisfied Aerocare that Mr Singh was not an ISIS supporter. He was not invited to do so.
  • The 10 minute break during the disciplinary meeting was not satisfactory, as it was impossible during that time for Aerocare to have adequately considered all of the issues discussed in the meeting.
  • It would have been appropriate for Aerocare to have continued Mr Singh’s suspension, which would have allowed management to fully consider the issues and to make further inquiries with respect to Mr Singh’s Facebook account.
  • Prior to the meeting, Aerocare decision makers had closed their minds to any explanation from Mr Singh, and they had not considered any sanction other than terminating his employment.

Commissioner Hunt found that there was no valid reason for Mr Singh’s termination and his claim for unfair dismissal was upheld. Mr Singh was awarded compensation the equivalent of 8 weeks’ pay, however that amount was reduced by 40% because of Mr Singh’s misconduct in breaching Aerocare’s social media policy.

This case highlights the importance of conducting through and timely investigations into conduct that appear to be improper or in breach of company policies especially those relating to comments made by employees online and in social media. Sarcasm and satire can be difficult to detect in text-based communication, it is crucial to investigate the context in which those comments are made.

When considering whether an employee’s conduct warrants dismissal, employers must ensure that the employee is afforded procedural fairness in that any explanation provided by the employee it taken into account before the final decision is made and if there any alternative sanctions, other than dismissal, that might be appropriate. Failure to do so may unnecessarily expose the employer to a claim for unfair dismissal.

AWPTI can assist you with full investigation services – http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

AWPTI – workplace investigations in Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations – misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

If your organisation is encountering these types of issues and you are not sure what to do, I recommend that you contact an expert for assistance with training and potential investigations.

The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct.

You can contact me on 0409 078 322 or phil@awpti.com.au

This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory.  It is recommended that should you encounter complaints in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigation

social media unfair dismissal

Unfair dismissal recently at FWC

Unfair dismissal hearing on 20 January 2016 in Sydney, the FWC found that a HR manager’s decision to dismiss an employee who couldn’t perform the inherent requirements of her role was reasonable, despite some “regrettable” lapses in process, the Fair Work Commission has ruled.

In Sao Duarte v The Paraplegic & Quadriplegic Association of NSW (full text here) involved an employee who in March 2016 emailed the CEO and advised that interpersonal issues at work were adversely affecting her performance and health. The CEO advised that he would monitor the situation.

A month later the HR manager asked the employee to attend a fact-finding meeting about allegations she had altered a client’s weekly medication pack without authorisation. The employee took leave the next day, claiming that that she was suffering from a workplace injury that had been exacerbated by bullying, she did not return to the workplace.

The employer subsequently deemed that Ms Duarte was incapable of performing the inherent requirements of her job due to a major depressive disorder, she was dismissed on the HR manager’s advice after she failed to respond to a show-cause request.

Ms Duarte claimed in her application to the FWC that her dismissal was unfair because she had been subjected to bullying over a  period of time, and was provided with no assistance after complaining about the bullying. She further stated that the fact-finding meeting made her feel targeted, as if she were being “groomed for dismissal”.

She didn’t deny being unable to perform the inherent requirements of her job at the time, but said she might have returned to full duties in the short-to-medium term.

The HR manager gave evidence to the FWC that the dismissal decision was based solely on medical evidence about Ms Duarte’s inability to do her job, even with modifications, and insisted her performance and conduct were irrelevant.

The HR manager said that after seeing references to alleged bullying in the employee’s medical report, she conducted a “fulsome” review (at 47) of her employment records and found no formal complaint. She claimed she only became aware of the employee’s email to the CEO after the dismissal.

Commissioner Booth found it was reasonable for ParaQuad to dismiss the employee after finding she couldn’t carry out the inherent requirements of her role, those requirements required her to be alert, handle emergencies and deal with clients with significant disabilities.

The Commissioner found that it was “regrettable” that the HR manager, having become aware of the allegations, didn’t “extend a conciliatory hand” by, for example, offering to have a conversation with the employee.

“[The manager] effectively asserted that there was no bullying or harassment problem because [the employee] had not followed the correct grievance process,” the Commissioner said.

She described the HR manager’s approach as “form over substance” and said that while it’s preferable for an employee to follow workplace protocol when making allegations, bullying could clearly occur without complaint.

“The art of good human resource practice includes responding to signals as well as addressing issues raised through formal channels.”

The CEO’s failure to take appropriate action, which would “certainly” have involved referring the email to HR, was also regrettable, Commissioner Booth said.

“The CEO said he’d monitor the situation, but gave no evidence of further action. “In my view this was an inadequate response to the concerns raised,” she said.

In dismissing the application, she noted the worker was pursuing a review of her workers’ compensation application, which could prove a more appropriate forum for her grievances.

Lessons for employers

When determining if someone can perform the inherent requirements of their role, employers are advised look to independent medical examinations.

If a complaint of bullying is made it should not be ignored even if it does not fit within the usual process or procedure.

AWPTI – workplace investigations in Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

Please contact us if you require assistant with the investigation of misconduct complaints to training to help you business avoid such issues. www.awpti.com.au

This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory. It is recommended that should you encounter complaints in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigator

Unfair dismissal

 

Evidence 2

Evidence rules

Evidence rules – When conducting a workplace investigation there are rules relating to evidence that you need to be aware of and adhere to.

The laws of evidence prescribe standards to which a fact must be proved, in workplace investigations that are generally classed  as civil proceedings in nature whether or not they end up in a court or tribunal, facts must be proved on the balance of probabilities. If the matter is of a criminal nature the facts must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The civil burden of proof is considered to be a lower standard

Rule of evidence

Relevance:
Evidence obtained during an investigation or interview should be relevant to the matters under investigation.

Hearsay:

The hearsay rule is complex, however basically hearsay evidence is third party evidence for example John tells you that Julie told him that she was being bullied by Mike.

The evidence provided by John is hearsay. You need to interview Julie to obtain the information.

Hearsay evidence is unlikely to be admitted if the matter goes to court.

Best evidence:
It is better to rely on original documents, direct evidence from the parties and witnesses.


Corroboration:
It is wise to seek multiple sources of evidence.

Similar fact:
Be wary, just because you have evidence that a respondent behaved in a certain manner in the past does not mean they behaved in the same manner during the events that lead to the current investigation

Chain of evidence
You may have to show that the evidence you are relying upon is the actual evidence that you discovered during the course of the investigation for example documents or physical objects.  I will cover the chain of evidence in part 3.

If you intend to conduct internal investigations I highly recommend that you consider purchasing our Investigation Toolbox http://awpti.com.au/investigation-toolbox/

or the Investigation Interview Manual.  http://awpti.com.au/investigation-interview-manual/

If you require assistance with the investigations of workplace misconduct issues such as bullying, harassment, sexual harassment of any other issues please contact us at enquiries@awpti.com.au http://awpti.com.au/

AWPTI – workplace investigations in Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

 Evidence

Evidence
Workplace Investigations – what is evidence?

Evidence is the crucial element when it comes to proving on the balance of probabilities whether or not a person who is the subject of a complaint behaved in the manner complained about.

Failure to understand the value of evidence can seriously undermine an investigation and can have costly consequences to employers if a person is unfair dismissed or unfair treated in the workplace.  

Evidence – is information that is relevant to proving or disproving a disputed fact in issue in investigations and legal proceedings.

Evidence comes in many forms including;

·         Letters of complaints

·         Informant information

·         Proceeds of a search

·         Observations

·         Interviews

·         Statements

·         Documents

·         Photographs

·         Emails

·         Forensic evidence

·         Computer records

·         Other physical items.

There is no set rule to determine what type of evidence is the best evidence. In any investigation the best evidence is the evidence that assists in proving an element in question and maximising the successful outcome for the investigation.

Evidence differs from information as it can be said that information is only information if it is not used for anything, once it is used to support or inform a theory or in the case of an investigation a complaint, the information then becomes an item of evidence.

Information becomes evidence when it is used to make a decision or conclusion.

Therefore it can be argued that all evidence is information, but not all information is evidence. Having a comprehensive understanding of evidence and the rules of evidence is critical for  workplace investigators.

In upcoming articles I will discuss the rules of evidence and the handling and storage of evidence.

If you intend to conduct internal investigations I highly recommend that you consider purchasing our Investigation Toolbox http://awpti.com.au/investigation-toolbox/

or the Investigation Interview Manual.  http://awpti.com.au/investigation-interview-manual/

If you require assistance with the investigations of workplace misconduct issues such as bullying, harassment, sexual harassment of any other issues please contact us at enquiries@awpti.com.au http://awpti.com.au/

AWPTI – workplace investigations in Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

Evidence