BlandsLaw - Articles
Please select your page
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

Workplace culture and respectful relations between employees

Ensuring that co-workers maintain respectful and friendly relations is pivotal in any workplace. In saying that, it is inevitable that tensions between workers will flare up at one point or another. In these circumstances, employers must be able to turn to a code of conduct or policy to address the situation before it’s too late. Further, keeping a firm eye on how workplace culture is developing will be an employer’s greatest tool in preventing improper employee interaction becoming the norm.

In a recent case before the FWC[1], a Qantas baggage handling worker was dismissed following an investigation which revealed instances of serious misconduct directed at his co-worker, which was inconsistent with the Qantas Conduct policy.  

The FWC considered numerous allegations of misconduct and found that many of the claims against the employee were substantiated. Instances which were more serious in nature included where the employee forcefully grabbed a colleague by his shirt and shoved him up against a locker because the co-worker failed to respond verbally to

Read more

The importance of responding to bullying allegations

Employers are urged to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment fairly, promptly and in accordance with their relevant company policies. Otherwise, they may find that an employee seeks intervention from the Fair Work Commission under the anti-bullying provisions which give the Commission power to stop bullying and harassment at work in its tracks.

In a recent case[1], a Ramsay Health Care (“Ramsay”) catering assistant applied to the FWC for an order to stop bullying at work alleging that her manager and HR Advisor failed to investigate or take any action into her complaints of continuing bullying and victimisation. The employee had attended a meeting to discuss allegations against her of unauthorised absence from work and breach of a reasonable management request. Following these allegations, the employee raised bullying and victimisation complaints.

The catering assistant alleged that a group of colleagues made jokes about her, eavesdropped on her conversations and singled her out. Further, she claimed that she was abused and repeatedly accused of being drunk at work,

Read more

Resignations in the ‘heat of the moment’

In a recent case[1], the FWC has shed some light on the law surrounding what can sometimes be the grey area of ‘constructive dismissal’. In the initial FWC decision, it was found that a Bupa aged care worker was constructively dismissed when she submitted her letter of resignation. Bupa appealed the decision and the Full Bench considered whether to treat her resignation as effective or whether it should be truly characterised as termination at the initiative of the employer.

In the lead up to the termination, the employee had been removed from a training session by her general manager and was later taken to a disciplinary meeting where she was informed that there would be an investigation into allegations of misconduct. The employee was required to wait 2 hours outside the meeting room, which she spent worrying about what the allegations were concerning. She assumed they were in relation to a six-pack of beer a resident had given her. Before entering the meeting, she drafted a resignation letter

Read more

FWC has announced increases in national minimum wage -effective from 1 July 2018

 

The Fair Work Commission has released its 2018 Annual Minimum Wage Decision, awarding a 3.5% increase to award-reliant employees.

The FWC decision increases the national minimum wage to $719.20 – or $18.93 an hour. This constitutes an increase of $24.30 a week or 64 cents an hour.  All award rates of pay will increase by 3.5% with effect from the first pay period commencing on or after 1 July 2018.

The FWC panel stated that the labour market has improved significantly with strong employment growth. In particular, full-time employment grew by 3.1 per cent, which is significantly greater than the 1.0 per cent growth from last year. Further, it was noted that overall business conditions are at their highest levels since the global financial crisis.

It was acknowledged that the level of increase decided upon will not lead to inflationary pressure and is highly unlikely to have any measurable negative impact on employment.

Who is affected?

The 2018 Minimum Wage Decision applies to all employees covered by the national

Read more

Procedural Fairness: Providing employees with an opportunity to respond to the reasons for dismissal

It is well established that the two key components required during the dismissal process are identifying whether there is a valid reason and showing that employees were afforded procedural fairness. The FWC places substantial emphasis on whether employees are notified of and provided with an opportunity to respond to the reasons for their termination. An employer might have an array of legitimate reasons to let their employee go but if the process lacks procedural fairness, it will likely be all for nothing.

In a recent case before the FWC,[1] an employee was arrested on criminal charges for reasons which were unrelated to his employment, and his employer placed him on leave without pay. Whilst he was incarcerated, he was visited by his direct manager who informed him that he was able to return to work when he made bail. After the worker was granted bail, he visited the workplace and advised his employer that he was ready, willing and able to work and was honest when discussing the nature

Read more

Hands off the phone!

Virtually everyone who owns a mobile phone would agree that at one point or another they have used it when they shouldn’t or for too long. Not only are people preoccupied by their phones when they are walking down the street or crossing the road, but they are also distracted at work through the constant updates, emails and message alerts.

On the one hand, mobile phone use in the workplace has its benefits. For instance it enables employees to work remotely and allows employers to get in contact with their workers out-of-hours. In saying that, the detriments of excessive mobile phone use can often outweigh the benefits. It can perpetuate employee productivity concerns, cause disharmony in maintaining a work-life-balance and lead to various workplace safety hazards, especially when employees are using their phones whilst operating dangerous machinery. Prohibiting mobile phone use altogether is likely to be hard to enforce and generally a reasonable level of personal use is acceptable. The question becomes: how can employers manage mobile phone use in

Read more

Calculating Earnings for the unfair dismissal high income threshold

 

Accurately determining an employee’s annual earnings is an important task for employers. As a general rule, employees are not protected from unfair dismissal if their annual income exceeds the high-income threshold (currently $142,000) and they aren’t covered by an award/ enterprise agreement.

 

However, at times calculating annual income is not as straight forward as it appears. In a recent case,[1] the FWC shed some light on what is included in an employee’s annual rate of earnings for the purposes of determining whether they are protected by unfair dismissal laws.

In this case, the employee’s wages were $136,700 at the time of his dismissal and he was not covered by an award or enterprise agreement. While this is clearly lower than the high-income threshold, the employee also received additional ‘Toll’ and ‘Petrol’ benefits.

This was part of an oral agreement where the employer paid for the employee’s petrol for driving to and from his home to the office and other business-related travel. It was also agreed that road

Read more

Are prospective employees obliged to disclose medical conditions?

Often, we are asked whether employers can ask prospective employees questions relating to their medical history in the pre-employment stages. These kinds of questions are permissible where they concern the applicant’s capacity to perform the inherent requirements of the role.

 

Employers should encourage disclosure of pre-existing medical conditions at the earliest opportunity. Not only will this allow employers to make reasonable adjustments where necessary, but can also eliminate potential risks to health and safety that may arise. In certain situations, failing to disclose (or answering dishonestly) a medical condition in pre-employment can lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

In a recent case[1], a prison store supervisor, who suffers from type 2 diabetes, claimed that his employer directly discriminated against him by treating him unfavourably, suspending and dismissing him because of his condition. Further, the employee also argued that by allowing an increased number of inmates without a comparable increase in staffing, he was indirectly discriminated against because it meant he could not manage his condition whilst at

Read more

The fine line between harmless banter and sexual harassment

Both employers and employees need to be able to differentiate between harmless comments and conduct that crosses into bullying and sexual harassment territory.

When employees do not appreciate how their comments have affected others in the workplace, they commonly claim that they were “only joking”, “just mucking around” or state that they didn’t realise their comments would cause offence. Whilst an appropriate level of workplace banter is heathy and can contribute to employee rapport, employers should ensure that staff understand what is and is not acceptable at work, and deal with any breaches of these standards so that it does not become part of the accepted workplace culture.

In a recent case,[1] a Technical Support Consultant at the Foxtel Call Centre was dismissed for ongoing instances of inappropriate behaviour, repeated sexual innuendo and inappropriate jokes in the workplace. The FWC considered 10 allegations of sexual harassment raised by the employee’s co-workers and, where substantiated, whether these instances formed a valid reason for his dismissal. The employee had been

Read more

What are your reasons for dismissal?

Prior to termination, employers are urged to consider the reason they are letting their employee go and ensure they have a valid reason for dismissal. It may be because they lack capacity, are underperforming, engaging in unacceptable conduct or for reasons for redundancy. It is well established that the reason must be sound and well founded, and employers must ensure that the dismissal process is handled properly and in accordance with the principles of procedural fairness.

 

In a recent case[1] before the FWC, a beach inspector was summarily dismissed for serious misconduct after he decided to lend a helping hand to fix the air-conditioning units in two council vehicles. The employee’s modifications voided the vehicles’ warranties and resulted in a $4000 repair bill.

The employee contended that he was authorised to carry out the modifications by his supervisor (he was previously a trade-qualified auto-electrician/air-conditioning fitter). The council was happy to take advantage of the employee’s “willingness and self-initiative” and he was often encouraged or expected to perform similar

Read more

Improper social media use out of hours

Employers are well within their rights to discipline employees who misbehave over social media, even when the conduct occurs ‘out of hours’ during what is ordinarily private time. However, for employer intervention to be justified, it is necessary to establish a nexus between the alleged misconduct and the employment relationship.

In a recent case before the FWC[1], an employee was dismissed after he shared what was described as a “disrespectful and disturbing” pornographic video via social media with friends, including 19 male and female work colleagues. The employee had been heavily drinking that evening and claimed that he only wanted to send the video to “some of his mates” but hit “send all by mistake”. A female employee who received the video responded “Are you serious? Mate don't send me that shit". The worker posted an apology on his Facebook page the following day.

In alleging that he was unfairly dismissed, the employee argued that Hutchison Port Holdings had no valid reason to dismiss him because there was

Read more

Casual vs Permanent: The consequences of getting it wrong

Before the employment relationship begins, employers are urged to consider: Is this worker a casual or are they more appropriately categorised as a permanent full/part time employee? Importantly, employers must remember that just because you call them casual, doesn’t mean they are. Getting it right at the outset will be an employer’s greatest tool in avoiding conflict or litigation down the track.  

In a recent case before the Federal Circuit Court,[1] a worker claimed that he was entitled to 15 years’ worth of accrued annual leave because he was in fact a permanent rather than casual employee. However, the employer claimed that he was a casual because he was paid a loading. While there was no written employment contract in place, the employee was told that his job would be "full-time", paid at a "flat rate".

The employment began in 2000 and ended in 2015. Over the course of his employment, the worker “ordinarily worked at least 38 hours a week and usually worked many additional overtime hours”, which

Read more

Responding to Allegations of Sexual Harassment

Responding to Allegations of Sexual Harassment

When allegations of sexual harassment and bullying arise, it is insufficient for employers to simply point towards a sexual harassment policy in an effort to dissolve itself from legal liability. Employers have a responsibility to prevent and respond to instances of sexual harassment in the workplace.

 

This involves developing robust policies, monitoring policy implementation, regularly communicating policy content and providing ongoing training.

Where allegations of sexual harassment warrant the need for a formal investigation, it is imperative that the investigation is fairly conducted, and the evidence carefully considered. However, this is easier said than done when the alleged incidents are uncorroborated, and employers are left with the classic he said/she said scenario. 

In a recent case before the FWC[1], a mine technician alleged that he was unfairly dismissed for breaching the company’s equal employment opportunity and anti- bullying policy, when his employer concluded that he engaged in sexual harassment towards a 19-year-old female trainee.

The allegations, which were raised at the

Read more

Establishing the genuine reason for a redundancy

When redundancies are required as part of addressing a decline in business, employers are urged to consider the golden rule: redundancy relates to the job, and not the person. It is vital for employers to clearly establish (and document) the reasons for redundancy decisions, to prevent disgruntled employees from claiming their selection for redundancy was for an unlawful reason.

In a recent case[1], the Federal Circuit Court found that there was no adverse action against a Hertel Sheet Metal worker who alleged that the real reason for his redundancy was a complaint he had made against a co-worker and his supervisor. In the lead-up to the redundancy, the employee claimed he was experiencing instances of bullying and harassment from a co-worker, which included repeated racist and demeaning comments. When the employee raised the issue with his foreman, he claimed that he overheard the foreman say to another colleague that he “did not give a shit about his complaint.” There was a further confrontation and management decided to separate

Read more

The importance of a Drug and Alcohol Policy

 

It is widely accepted that employers can require their employees to undertake drug testing in accordance with an appropriate company policy. Importantly, the policy must stipulate testing protocols, procedures and agreement on testing methods. In a recent case before the FWC[1], an Elevated Work Platform Operator made an unfair dismissal application after his employment was terminated for failing to attend a drug test, which required him to produce a blood sample. A central question for the FWC was whether the employer’s direction to undertake a blood test was reasonable in the circumstances.

When Lincon Hire & Sales received information from an anonymous source alleging that three employees were using drugs, it decided that these employees would undergo a random drug test in accordance with the Drug and Alcohol Policy. The policy did not specify what method of drug and alcohol testing could be used.

The employees undertook the drug test by way of a urine sample and each employee produced a negative result. However, the company received

Read more

Dealing with employees who lie on their CV’s

In today’s competitive labor market, many job seekers are resorting to fabricating their skills or falsifying their work history on their CV in an effort to land their dream job. However, this leaves employers exposed to great risk. In a recent case before the FWC[1], it was agreed that Spectrum Community Focus had a valid reason to dismiss their finance manager. However, it was decided that the dismissal was unfair because the termination was incorrectly categorized as serious misconduct rather than poor performance.

The employee, who falsely claimed that her qualifications included ‘ASA – CPA Australia’, was responsible for preparing financial reports for all 12 entities related to Spectrum Community Outcomes (SCO).

However, she was summarily dismissed following a series of allegations that concerned her poor performance at work. It was found that she failed to file the company’s return to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) within the required time frame. Despite her Managing Director’s ability to negotiate a delayed lodgment date, the employee still managed

Read more

Stereotypes affecting mature aged workers

Despite anti-discrimination legislation and protection under the Fair Work Act (FWA), discrimination against mature aged workers is a prevalent and ongoing issue within Australia.

 

 

 

 

While many older workers feel ‘shut out’ from recruitment entirely, discrimination within the workplace itself can take many forms, such as:

  • Segregation, isolation and bullying
  • Denial of flexible working arrangements
  • Being overlooked for promotion, skill development and training

This is largely attributed to the fact that poor management and workplace culture creates a platform for negative stereotypes and assumptions to flourish. These include that mature aged workers are not able to adapt to change, have poor health and will take unnecessary personal leave, have difficulty learning new knowledge and technological skills and are frequently labeled as a “poor cultural fit”.

 

Many of these issues were raised in a recent case before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal[1], where it was found that a 62-year-old Acorn salesperson who had been dismissed was discriminated against because of his age and disability.

Read more

Can an offensive comment towards a colleague warrant dismissal?

 

A recent case before the Fair Work Commission[1]considered the dismissal of a casual employee who had made racist comments about his manager. The employee was a regular and systematic casual worker and as such was able to make a claim for unfair dismissal. There were two issues at play:

  1. Were the comments enough to warrant dismissal?
  2. Can an employer deal with disagreement between casual employees by removing one of the workers from the roster?

The employee who was ultimately dismissed had previously raised concerns that his manager had engaged in “cultural exclusion”. The manager was of Estonian background and the employee claimed that she had a habit of hiring employees from the same cultural group, and that she mainly conversed with these staff in their own language.

The incident (which lead to the dismissal) occurred when the manager left work with members of staff who were also Estonian. The manager farewelled the rest of the Estonian staff in their language but ignored the employee when he said

Read more

Unfair Dismissal: When will reinstatement be inappropriate?

When an employee has been unfairly dismissed, an employer may claim that reinstatement is not appropriate due to a loss of trust and confidence in the employee, rendering the employment relationship no longer viable or productive. However, previous case law has indicated that a degree of friction or tension in the workplace is not enough to avoid an order for reinstatement. An employer’s assessment that they have lost trust and confidence in the employee must be credible, genuine and rationally based.

Two recent cases have addressed this issue. In the Supreme Court of Western Australia[1], the court had to consider whether an order for reinstatement would be appropriate after an employee deliberately and dishonestly made false allegations against her supervisor. In addition, the employee alleged that other members of staff lied and conspired against her. After an investigation into an incident between the employee and her supervisor, it was found that the employee knowingly gave false accounts about what occurred and her employment was terminated as a consequence.

Read more

Timing Critical in Adverse Action against Pregnant Employee

A recent decision by the Federal Circuit Court[1] acts as a reminder for employers to think twice about timing when implementing redundancies.

In this case, the employee had been working for BOC Pty Ltd for almost 2 years when she became pregnant. Upon agreement with her general manager, the employee was scheduled to commence her maternity leave on the 6th of November 2015. The company subsequently decided that she would be one of 8 employees nationally that would be made redundant as part of a business restructure.

All redundancies were scheduled to occur on 12th November, however the employee’s termination date was brought forward to 6 November, two days before she was due to start her leave. The company alleged that this decision was made with her best interests in mind so that she would not be required to come back to work to be informed of the changes whilst she was on leave.

The employee claimed that she was discriminated against by being chosen because she was

Read more


More Articles