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Misconduct Investigation Allegation Letters. When AWPTI conducts an investigation we provide all the documentation including letters of allegation to our clients however I am often asked “Should we provide some sort of letter or email with the allegations?”
The answer is always YES.

Why: Recently I published an article about allegation letters, procedural fairness and why it is essential…Read more

In the case at the FWC of K v K&S Freighters Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 1555 (24 March 2016) an employee of 30 years was dismissed over misuse of a fuel card.  Commissioner Bissett found there was a valid reason for dismissal but there had been was a lack of procedural fairness.

The commission was satisfied the applicant sent freight without consignment notes, sent freight without charge and used a fuel card while he was on annual leave. Mr Kirkbright’s argument that this was how it had always been was not satisfactory.

Lack of procedural fairness

The Commissioner found that Mr Kirkbright was not advised that his conduct was an issue or were being investigated. In addition he was not provided with an opportunity to consider what was being alleged or the opportunity to respond.

The commission also considered that the HR department should have been better prepared for the meeting where Mr Kirkbright was dismissed:

“Whilst Mr K’s language in the meeting of 17 August 2015 leaves much to be desired; he displayed an appalling lack of respect for his manager and co-worker and this was the first time he had been confronted with the allegations. His reaction was not outside the realm of possibilities and should have been foreseen. The human resource manager, if she had not, should have walked the HR officer through what to do in such a circumstance.”

“The meeting should have been halted, Mr K given the allegations in writing and he should have been given an opportunity to respond either in writing or in a meeting at a future date (which could have been in a couple of days).”

The Commission found that the lack of procedural fairness and long service of the employee were both relevant.

On providing an opportunity to respond the commission said:

“In Crozier v Palazzo Corporation Pty Ltd… the full bench said:  As a matter of logic procedural fairness would require that an employee be notified of a valid reason for their termination before any decision is taken to terminate their employment in order to provide them with an opportunity to respond to the reason identified…”

Mr Kirkbright sought reinstatement but it was considered inappropriate. The matter was set down for compensation to be considered.

Later in Kirkbright v K&S Freighters Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 2743 (4 May 2016) the Commission ordered compensation in the amount of $11,624.25 plus superannuation.

Misconduct Investigation Allegation Letters – Lessons for employers

  • Procedural fairness cannot be ignored, it requires an employer to provides any employee accused of misconduct with a chance to respond and put their side or version of events forward before any final decision is made.
  • Don’t take short cuts, it’s not worth it in the long run.
  • If you are not sure what to do, get help, call an expert.

As I mentioned when we conduct investigations we ensure that all the documentation is legally complaint and that procedural fairness is afforded. If you wish to conduct investigations into misconduct internally I recommend;

  1. Have your people, HR professionals or managers trained. AWPTI can provide 1 and 2 day investigation training courses for HR professionals or managers – Read more
  2. If you have an understanding of the investigative process make sure all your documentation is complaint. For those that wish to DIY we have created an Investigation Document Toolbox – Read more
  3. Read our TOP TEN tips for workplace Investigations Misconduct, Complaints and Grievances – Read more

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide

Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations

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

 

Unfair dismissal serious misconduct workplace investigation – When considering dismissing an employee for serious misconduct, employers must bare in mind the following;

  1. Does the alleged behaviour that resulted dismissal reach the threshold of serious misconduct
  2. Have you conducted an investigation – do yo have the evidence to support the decision to terminate?
  3. Does the punishment fit the crime?

More details of another case there the issue of the punishment fitting the crime was considered by the FWC – http://awpti.com.au/punishment-must-fit-crime/

More details about summary dismissal can be found here – http://awpti.com.au/summary-dismissal-2/

Recently at the fair Work Commission, the depot manager at an Australian courier company was unfairly sacked after he was accused of being responsible for the breach of a worldwide embargo on the J.K. Rowling book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the Fair Work Commission has found.

The FWC heard that XL Express Pty Ltd sacked the depot manager for serious misconduct last November when he was told that the delivery of embargoed J.K. Rowling books a day early had damaged the company’s reputation. XL Express blamed the Brisbane depot manager for the embargo breach, a claim he denied.

Describing the delivery of embargoed freight as “the pinnacle of its operations”, the company said a November 17, 2016 embargo on the J.K. Rowling novel was breached on November 16.

Under cross-examination, the company agreed it had not lost its contract with the book distributor and had not been financially penalised for the embargo breach. It claimed a forklift driver removed the embargo consignment from the embargo area and that another staff member removed the consignment note from an embargo file. The depot manager was accused of failing to ensure staff followed set procedures for embargo releases.

The depot manager told the FWC that the error with the sorting and handling of the consignment note happened on November 15 when he was on leave.  He said he was unaware that someone had “accessed his office, gained access to the box where the embargo labels were kept and also retrieved the con-note from the embargo con-notes and had labelled the freight”.

He said no fewer than six people had taken these actions on the day he was absent from the depot.

The commission heard that the depot manager claimed the error that resulted in the embargo breach on November 16 “was not through any fault on his part”.

The depot manager, who had been employed from May 2008 until late November last year, was dismissed on the grounds of serious misconduct after a meeting in which he was also accused of workplace bullying. He said it was the first time the allegations had been put to him. He was also accused of wrongly claiming he had received training in the company’s anti-bullying procedures.

Fair Work Commission deputy president Ingrid Asbury’s judgment said XL Express had no documents and called no evidence to support the bullying allegations.

The depot manager told the commission he was not paid his long service leave entitlements because his job was terminated for misconduct.

In finding the dismissal was unfair, Deputy President Asbury ordered XL Express to pay the sacked employee $48,432 in wages, less tax and $6555 in superannuation contributions.

The commission found that although it was not a valid reason for his dismissal, the depot manager’s responsibility for depot operations “meant that he had a role in the series of events that led to the embargo breach”.

It said the dismissal was harsh because it was disproportionate to the misconduct in relation to the embargo breach.

It is important to consider the decision in Rode v Burwood Mitsubishi where is was held a valid reason must be “defensible or justifiable on objective analysis of relevant facts”.

 

FWC High income threshold increases – Changes to high income threshold and compensation caps and filing fees

Commencing today, (1 July 2017) the high income threshold in unfair dismissal cases increases to $142,000 and the compensation limit is now $71,000. The maximum compensation cap is set at 26 weeks or 50% of the high income threshold

The filing fee for dismissal, general protections and anti-bullying applications made under sections 365, 372, 394, 773 and 789FC of the Fair Work Act 2009 will increase to $70.60

It is important to remember that an employee earning over the threshold of #142,000.00 can still make an unfair dismissal application if;

  1. They are covered by a modern award

    A modern award is a legal document that sets out minimum wages and conditions for an industry or occupation. Awards cover things like rates of pay, overtime, penalty rates and allowances. The conditions in awards apply on top of the minimum conditions in the National Employment Standards.
  2. If they are covered by an enterprise agreement
    An enterprise agreement is a legal document that sets out the conditions of employment between a group of employees and their employer.Enterprise agreements can be made by an employer with a group of employees, or by more than one employer with groups of employees.In some cases, enterprise agreements can be made by an employer and a union for a new enterprise before any employees start working for the business.

If you are not sure if your employees are covered by the unfair dismissal provisions of the Fair Work Act take the test at the Fair Work Commission web site – https://www.fwc.gov.au/content/rules-form/unfair-dismissal-application

Recent decisions about the high income threshold can be found in this article – http://awpti.com.au/fwc-high-income-threshold-decisions/

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations

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

 

 

Unfair dismissal hearing participation – As an employer facing an unfair dismissal application it is important that you participate in the process, you can’t argue against a judgement if you are not presents at the hearing. The Commission will still proceed with the matter in the absence of the respondent.

Melim v Construction Staff NSW

TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT – performances.394 Fair Work Act 2009 – application for relief from unfair dismissal

The Applicant was employed as a permanent full-time concrete patcher. On 22 July at the request of his supervisor, the Applicant commenced leave due to a “shortage of work”. However, he received no further call.

After a number of calls, including to the CFMEU, he was offered work on a job at Mascot. This was done by a director of the employer. He commenced work on 24 August 2016. On 31 August, the Applicant stated that he had cleaned up some unset concrete, as instructed.

On 1 September, he was told by the foreman and subsequently the director, on the telephone, that he was no longer required. The Applicant says that he was given no proper explanation for his dismissal other than an email that attached a separation certificate which referred to “shortage of work”. The Applicant denies that his work on 31 August was in any way substandard.

The respondent submitted an F3 form stating applicant was terminated on 31 August 2016 because he refused to clean up unset concrete as instructed by his supervisor.

Subsequently the respondent did not participate in the hearing.

The Commission found no valid reason for dismissal, no notification of a valid reason or an opportunity to respond. The Commission found the termination was harsh and unjust and ordered compensation of $12,433.60.

Link to case – https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2017fwc2207.htm

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations

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

 

 

 

Warnings, termination, unfair dismissal – It is important if as an employer you are going to rely on past warnings when terminating a employee, that the warning/s are relevant to the reasons for termination, failure to do so could see the Fair Work Commission hold the the termination was unfair as it did in the case of Taylor v Qube Ports P/L t/a Qube Ports (See below)

“The issue of tolerance of poor behaviour or performance is among the most delicate issues that managers and HR managers will face with employers weighing up questions of fairness, due diligence, productivity and workplace harmony – as well as legal aspects.

One potentially awkward scenario is when an employee has received official warnings that are dated or have expiry dates, that the employee duly sees out, only for the sub-par behaviour or performance to return soon after these dates.

The question is, how viable is it for an employer to refer back to expired warnings or a letter dated older than six month as grounds for further action or even dismissal?

It is important to remember if terminating or disciplining an employee not to confuse the purpose of warning letters, for example;

  • Previous warning letters that relate to behavioural issues or misconduct cannot relied on in cases of poor performance and vice versa.
  • If an employee breaches a safety guideline, process or procedure you cannot rely on a previous warning letters for unrelated behavioural or poor performance issues.”

Excerpt from the AWPTI Reasonable Management Action manual – http://awpti.com.au/reasonable-management-action-manual/

Warnings, termination, unfair dismissal – Taylor v Qube Ports P/L t/a Qube Ports

TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT – misconducts.394 Fair Work Act 2009 – application for relief from unfair dismissal

The applicant Mr Taylor was terminated for breach of a lawful and reasonable direction given by employer regarding loading of ship on 1 July 2016.

Evidence was provided that the applicant had received three prior warnings for threatening behaviour and failing to follow company procedure.

Mr Taylor submitted that on 1 July 2016 the breach was not deliberate and that he was under a lot of pressure that day. In response Qube argued that applicant’s submissions in relation to nature or quality of breach was irrelevant to question of valid reason and stated that that applicant knew about procedure and decided consciously and wilfully not to follow it.

The Commission found applicant breached company procedure and that he was familiar with it but as it was an isolated event and that it did not constitute a valid reason for dismissal and that the prior warnings were not relevant as they were dubious factually with dubious processes.

The Commission found in favour of the respondent that applicant’s previous warnings should be taken into account but only to the extent of whether or not the incidents (relating to the warning) had occurred but not relevance to the dismissal.  The Commission found dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable, that reinstatement inappropriate. Compensation of $18,225.80 less taxation was ordered.

Link to case – https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2017fwc2238.htm

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations

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

FWC High Income Threshold Decisions – to satisfy the provisions of the Fair Work Act and to be able to claim relief via the Fair Work Commission an employee must earn under the High Income Threshold, currently set at $138,900.00 per annum.

FWC High Income Threshold Decisions
Scarborough v Sandfire Resources NL t/a Sandfire Resources NL

TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT – high income thresholdmodern award coveragess.382, 394 Fair Work Act 2009

This decision concerns an application made by Mr Nigel Scarborough for an unfair dismissal remedy under s.394 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act) in respect of his employment by Sandfire Resources NL T/A Sandfire Resources NL (Sandfire).

Mr Scarborough argues that his employment was covered by the  Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award 2010 (manufacturing award) or the Mining Industry Award (mining award) and therefore he was protected from unfair dismissal under s.382(b)(i) of FW Act

Sandfire contended that Mr Scarborough was not protected from unfair dismissal on the basis that his annual rate of earnings exceeds the current high income threshold and the applicant’s employment is not covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement

The Commission held that the respondent business did not operate in the manufacturing industry, but in the mining industry, and so the applicant was not covered by the manufacturing award – held that the applicant was a supervisor, but that supervisors are not covered by the mining award [Fry], [McMillan and Norman]

The commission held that applicant was therefore not a person protected from unfair dismissal, as he was above the high income threshold and was not covered by and enterprise agreement or award, the application was dismissed.

Link to case – https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2017fwc947.htm

FWC High Income Threshold Decisions
St George v Gold Coast Turf Club Ltd t/a Gold Coast Turf Club

TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT – high income threshold – modern award coverage – ss.382, 394 Fair Work Act 2009

The decision arises from an application by Mr Dale St George for an unfair dismissal remedy pursuant to section 394 of the Fair Work Act 2009 Mr St George was the Chief Executive Officer of the Gold Coast Turf Club Limited.

The Turf Club objected to Mr St George’s application on the basis that it alleged that Mr St George’s earnings were more than the high income threshold.

The Turf Club submitted that Mr St George is not covered by the Award on a number of bases:

  • The employment agreement entered into explicitly states that the position of CEO is considered to be Award free;
  • The Award does not cover employers in the Racing industry;
  • The Turf Club does not fall within the definition of “Club” in the Award; and
  • The classification definitions submitted do not apply to a manager at CEO level.

Mr St George submitted that he is covered by the Award because:

  • The Turf Club is a “Club” as defined in the Award;
  • The principal purpose of the position held by Mr St George falls within the classification definition of “club manager” in the Award and, more particularly, a ‘Level G manager’; and
  • The Award contemplates high income club managers by the inclusion of provisions exempting certain managers from Award entitlements where they earn more than 50% above the minimum.

The Commission found respondent (Turf Club) operates for benefit of members, however, it was not not persuaded that a club that promotes and holds racing events is conducted for the benefit of the community.

The Commission was not satisfied that the respondent is a ‘Club’ within definition of the Award and held that even if wrong in that conclusion, the respondent is not covered by operation of the exclusions in coverage of the Award.

The Commission not satisfied applicant was covered by modern award and therefore the applicant was a person protected from unfair dismissal, the application was dismissed.

Senior Deputy Commissioner Drake stated

“I am satisfied and find that the sum of Mr St George’s annual rate of earnings is not less than the high income threshold. It is agreed that no enterprise agreement applies to Mr St George. I am not satisfied that Mr St George is covered by a Modern Award. Therefore, I am satisfied that Mr St George is not a person who was protected from unfair dismissal at the time of his termination of employment. On this basis his application must be dismissed.”

Link to case – https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2017fwc451.htm

FWC High Income Threshold Decisions
Wigglesworth v Warringah Plastics P/L

TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT – high income threshold – ss.332, 382, 394 Fair Work Act 2009

Mr Michael Wigglesworth (Applicant) applied for an unfair dismissal remedy pursuant to s.394 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Act). The Applicant was employed in the position of Business Development and Accounts Manager for the states of Victoria and South Australia with Warringah Plastics Pty Ltd (Respondent) commenced that position on 1 July 2015.

The Applicant was advised of the dismissal by letter on 8 July 2016. It was not in dispute that the Applicant’s employment was terminated by the Respondent on 8 July 2016 effective immediately.  Although the dismissal was effective immediately, the Termination Letter made it clear that the Applicant would receive one months’ pay in lieu of notice.

The Termination Letter provided that “our decision is based solely on a commercial basis in that the business you brought across from Kema Plastics is not sufficient to justify a full time Account Manager and with no significant new business generated since your commencement, we have no option other than to server our ties”.

The Respondent maintained that at the time of the his dismissal, Mr Wigglesworth’s employment was not covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement, and he earned more than the high income threshold and was therefore is unable to make an application for an unfair dismissal remedy. The Respondent also contended that Mr Wigglesworth was not covered by a modern award or that no enterprise agreement applied at the time of his dismissal, this matter was not in dispute.

The Commission satisfied that at the time of the applicant’s dismissal, his guaranteed salary was $120,000.00, he received a vehicle allowance of $15,000.00 and that other amounts sought to be included by respondent do not form part of the sum or amount contemplated by s.382(b)(iii) of Fair Work Act

The Commission found as a result that the total of $135,000.00 was less than the high income threshold and that the applicant is a person protected from unfair dismissal.

The respondent’s jurisdictional objection dismissed, the application was to proceed in the normal way.
Link to case- https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2016fwc7555.htm

In the subsequent unfair dismissal hearing Commission found that Mr Wigglesworth’s dismissal was unfair inn that it was was both unjust and unreasonable to dismiss him without procedural fairness.  Reinstatement not sought compensation of $7,993.44 was awarded.
Link to case – https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2017fwc1266.htm

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations

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

 

Support person – workplace investigation

Support person – workplace investigation – All you wanted to know about a support person but were too afraid to ask.

It should be noted that under Section 387 of the Fair Work Act, in subsection “(d) any unreasonable refusal by the employer to allow a person to have a support person present to assist at any discussions relating to dismissal may be considered as part of the criteria for considering harshness etc.”

Although the FWA refers to unreasonable refusal, I recommend always offering a support person to an interviewee whether it is in relation to a disciplinary or performance related matter. If they refuse record the refusal.

What is a support person?
Someone who attends the interview to provide emotional support to the interviewee if need be.

What is the role of the support person?
Generally it is to sit down and be quiet. However a support person can ask questions of the interviewer and in most cases can provide advice to the interviewee if appropriate but should not answer for the interviewee. They may also speak on behalf of the interviewee if that interviewee is not able to do so.

Please note under some EBA’s the support person mostly union representatives are provided with the authority to advocate on the employee’s behalf. If that is the case you can rest assured that the union rep will let you know.

Who can be a support person?
An adult not involved in the interview or investigation.

Can you refuse the interviewee a support person?
No, not unless you want to fall foul of s387 ss(d).

Can you decide who the support person can be?
No.

Can you decide who the support is not?
Yes, if the person is a witness in the matter, a co-respondent, a child or if the person is apparently unsuitable. In the case of union officials or other officials, if the proposed support person has been the support person for the other party in an investigation.

What happens if the support person is prompting the interviewee?
This can actually be helpful as they may have discussed the matter beforehand and the support person may be helping the interviewee to recall events. The interviewee may be nervous and could tend to forget certain details during the interview. Listen carefully, if it is getting out of hand stop the interview and ensure the support person is aware of their role and boundaries.

What happens if the support person is disruptive?
It is always wise to ensure that the support person is aware of their role and boundaries before commencing the interview. If the support person is disruptive during the interview I recommend the following:

  1. Stop the interview and ensure the support person is aware of their role and boundaries. You may have to do this more than once
  2. If the interview is becoming unworkable, stop the interview and re-schedule it. It might be wise at this time to discuss the choice of support person with the interviewee

Can I eject a support person from the interview if they are becoming too disruptive?
Yes but I don’t recommend it. It could be considered as falling under s387 FWA ss (d). Stop the interview and re-schedule it, discuss the choice of support person with the interviewee.

Can the interviewer have a support person?
Yes and I recommend it if you have a feeling that the interviewee may be difficult.

What can my support person do?
That depends, if they are a co-interviewer they should be taking notes and then ask questions that you may have not or questions that help to clarify matters.

If they are simply there to support you I recommend that your support person should also be taking notes.

Having a support person can help to ensure that complaints are not made against you in regard to the manner in which the interview was conducted.

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 02 9674 4279 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 investigators.

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations

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

Procedural Fairness – Workplace Investigation Procedural Fairness – Workplace Investigation – When conducting any misconduct workplace investigation, grievance investigation, performance management or any other disciplinary process it is vitally important that employers ensure that employees involved at afforded procedural fairness. Many unfair dismissal applications are successful at the Fair Work Commission due to the absence […]

Unfair dismissal flawed investigation

Unfair dismissal flawed investigation – Workplace investigations may be necessary part of business but are often complex and difficult to conduct, especially for the untrained and inexperienced.

A question that is generally raised after a complaint has been lodged is whether to conduct the investigation internally or to obtain external investigation assistance.

Before relying on the findings of an investigation especially when terminating an employee, employers must consider whether the investigation itself and its findings are sound and can be supported by the facts.

In the case of Jennifer Walker v Salvation Army (NSW) [2017] FWC 32 the internal investigation was found flawed due to reliance on false assumptions.

Link to case: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/FWC/2017/32.html

In this unfair dismissal case at the Fair Work Commission, the applicant Ms Walker was the manager of the Salvation Army’s store in Lidcombe, Sydney. She had been an employee of the Salvation Army for 11 years and during that time had an unblemished employee record.

In July 2016, Ms Walker served a customer who wished to purchase items of furniture. Ms Walker did not enter a sale and provided the customer with a handwritten document indicating she had set aside certain items.

The customer arrived later in the week to pick up the furniture. The customer claimed he had paid $200 in full for the furniture, however, there was no record of sale. The Salvation Army subsequently investigated the issue. The investigation consisted of a review of the CCTV footage and discussions with Ms Walker and the customer.

The Salvation Army believed the customer’s account and that the CCTV showed Ms Walker had received $200 cash from a customer as payment for furniture he was purchasing.

The CCTV footage showed that while dealing with the customer, Ms Walker had at least $50 in her hand. Ms Walker denied receiving any money from the customer. The Salvation Army terminated her employment for serious misconduct (theft).

In considering the case, Senior Deputy President Hamberger noted that the more serious the alleged conduct the higher the standard of reasonable satisfaction is needed to be applied when determining whether the conduct occurred.

SDP Hamberger found that the evidence demonstrated that Ms Walker was holding a $50 note in her hand, but it did not establish that she had received that money from the customer. SDP Hamberger concluded the customer had not paid Ms Walker for the furniture and as a result held that Ms Walker had not engaged in serious misconduct and that her termination was unfair

SDP Hamberger was surprised at the lack of rigour in the internal investigation and that the Salvation Army so readily accepted the customer’s claims that he had paid ahead of the account of Ms Walker.

In finding that the dismissal was unfair, SDP Hamberger considered the criteria in section 392 of the Fair Work Act 2009 and awarded the Store Manager the maximum available compensation of twenty six weeks’ pay equating to $22,404.50.

Lessons for employers

When conducting a workplace disciplinary investigation, employers should undertake the following:

  • Ensure that the employee is afforded procedural fairness especially the right to be heard
  • Ensure that the employee is provided with an opportunity to respond to the allegations. This involves providing the employee with sufficient details of the alleged conduct in writing.
  • In the case of CCTV evidence, it is recommended that employers, ensure that the employee are permitted to view the footage prior to providing a response.
  • Genuinely consider different or alternative explanations for the alleged conduct, and ensure all available evidence is gathers from witnesses and duly considered.
  • Consider any mitigating circumstances prior to making a determination in regard to disciplinary action such the length of service or employment record and past behaviour of the employee.
  • Ensure impartiality and avoid making assumptions of guilt prior to the completion of a fair and thorough investigation;
  • Provide the employee with the opportunity to have a support person present, including providing the employee with sufficient opportunity to find an appropriate support person; and
  • When in doubt, consider other opinions before terminating.

This decision in this case demonstrates the disadvantages of undertaking an internal investigation which was not thorough and made assumptions (that is, the customer’s account was truthful), rather than taking a more open minded approach to all asserted facts.

If in doubt call an expert, getting a workplace investigation wrong can be costly both in terms of money and reputation.

AWPTI – workplace investigations 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/

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 02 9674 4279 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 investigators.

 

Social media case

Social media case – Recently at the Fair Work Commission in the case of Renton v Bendigo Health Care Group [2016] FWC 9089, it was highlighted that employers need to consider the appropriateness of penalties and having policies in place when considering a decision to terminate employees for misconduct and is a reminder about the use and abuse of social media in the workplace

Link to case – https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2016fwc9089.htm

In the Renton case, an employee of Bendigo Health Care Group was found to have been unfairly dismissed despite ‘tagging’ two of his colleagues in an offensive and sexually explicit video post on Facebook and on the same day had also left blobs of sorbolene cream and tissues on the desk of a colleague tagged in the video.

That colleague complained about the two incidents and the employer dismissed the employee for serious misconduct.

Commissioner Bissett found that the employee had:

  • negatively affected the health and safety of colleagues
  • engaged in conduct that had the potential to damage the employer’s reputation
  • exposed his colleagues to humiliation and ridicule at work.

The Commissioner stated,

“Whilst Mr Renton is apologetic, he has displayed a lack of insight into the effect of his post on his colleagues – even at the hearing of his application he failed to appreciate that it caused real offence. To this extent, I am not sure the basis of his apologies. He compounded his Facebook misdeed by placing blobs of sorbolene cream on Mr Christie’s desk. That act was boorish.

Having said this, however, I consider, on fine balance, that the decision to terminate Mr Renton’s employment was harsh in that it was disproportionate to the gravity of the misconduct.”

Mr Renton has no history of misconduct at work. Whilst it is apparent he and Mr Christie have exchanged ‘jokes’ in the past, not dissimilar to the sorbolene incident, this has gone unremarked by either of them, their colleagues or management (if it was aware of these ‘jokes’). Further, the Facebook posting and its naming of work colleagues and ‘work’ is a one-off incident. Mr Renton had not drawn such connections in the past. Whilst Mr Renton’s insight into the incident may be questioned it can only be hoped he has learnt from his conduct. Further, there was no suggestion that the incident had any adverse effect on any other aspect of Mr Renton’s work.

Commissioner Bissett held that the behaviour was a one-off nature and that there had been a lack of previous misconduct. Having found the dismissal of the employee to be harsh and as a result Mr Renton was unfairly dismissed.

Commissioner Bissett considered that the incident was an isolated one and his employment history was otherwise spotless.

Getting termination right.

This decision suggests that employers must consider a number of issues when deciding to terminate an employee such as:

  1. The nature of the incident
  2. Past behaviours and employment history, including length of service
  3. If policies are in place and did the behaviour breach the policy
  4. Are options other than termination more appropriate.
  5. Does the punishment fit the crime, as matter also addressed in Dawson v Qantas Airways Limited (2016) FWC 8249 – http://awpti.com.au/fwc-unfair-dismissal/

It is recommended that employers have in place

  1. A clearly written social media policy
  2. Training that clearly outlines the contents of the policy so that employees understand the behavioural expectations of the employer
  3. Investigate matters of this nature thoroughly and impartially before making final decisions.

AWPTI – workplace investigations 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/

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 02 9674 4279 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 investigator