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FWC reminder: there are two “Os” in “BOOT”

Summary

In approving an enterprise agreement that did not include conditions that were available under the relevant award, the Fair Work Commission has emphasised that the test is whether employees are better off overall and not on a “line by line or itemised basis”.

 

For employers

  • Ensure you have conducted a Better Off Overall Test in support of any new enterprise agreement
  • Enterprise agreements can trade off award conditions provided that overall the employees are better off

In approving an enterprise agreement that did not include RDO and TOIL provisions (although these were contained in the applicable award), Deputy President Alan Colman has emphasised that the test is whether employees are better off overall, not whether each employee is individually better off based on their personal circumstances and preferences.[1]

The case concerned an application by BOC Limited for approval of an enterprise agreement. In its objections to the Fair Work Commission, the National Union of Workers submitted that the agreement failed the BOOT as it did not allow

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FWC send clear message: termination by text is unacceptable

In two separate cases decided this week, the Fair Work Commission has made it clear that termination of employment via text message is unlikely to amount to a fair dismissal. The method has been variously described by the Commission as “unconscionably undignified”, “hopeless”, “repugnant”, “unnecessarily callous” and “disgraceful and grossly unfair”.

In the first case[1], an employee received a text message stating that his employment was terminated with immediate effect and that he was required to work out his notice period. The text message followed a discussion with the employer in which the employee was told that his rate of pay would be cut from $31.78 per hour to $25 per hour. The employee did not agree to the paycut and received the text message after leaving the workplace.

Deputy President Sams was scathing of the employer both in terms of the reasons provided for the dismissal and in particular the method of dismissal. He described the dismissal by text message as “deliberate and calculated” and “breathtaking in

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Employers more accountable for decisions about flexible work arrangements

A new model term dealing with how an employee’s request for flexible working arrangements must be dealt with will be inserted into all modern awards from 1 December 2018.

The model term applies to a request by an employee for a change in working arrangements under section 65 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (“the Act”). The Act provides that an employer can only refuse a request on ‘reasonable business grounds’.

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The importance of policy communication and training

In cases of an employee policy breach, courts have supported the principle that it is not enough for an employer to simply point towards the existence of a policy in an effort to justify disciplinary action. Generally speaking, policies are fruitless unless employers can demonstrate that employees have easy access to policy documents, that regular training is provided and that policies (and changes) are effectively communicated to all employees.

In a recent case before the FWC,[1] a longstanding employee of 17 years with a positive work-record was summarily dismissed for breaching his employer’s "zero tolerance" mobile phone policy, when the employee used his phone in what his employer considered a ‘food production area’. The next day, the employee was called into a meeting where he was instantly dismissed.

The employee claimed that the employer had already decided to terminate before the meeting, because it “wanted to make an example out of him”. He said that he was aware that mobile phones were not permitted in the food production area,

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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

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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

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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

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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 goodbye.

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Knowing when abandonment of employment is official

Abandonment of employment arises where an employee absents themselves from the workplace without reasonable excuse, and/or has failed to communicate with their employer the reason for the absence. In these situations, it is essential that the employee has demonstrated an intention to no longer be bound by the terms of the contract.

Often we are asked: at what point is it safe to assume that abandonment has occurred? Or, during a period of unexplained and continued absence, when is it reasonable to conclude that an employee is gone for good? While few modern awards specifically provide for circumstances where an employee will be deemed to have abandoned their employment, the answer is far from straightforward. As evident in the following case, employers will fall into legal trouble if they jump the gun and declare abandonment too soon.

In a recent case heard by the FWC[1], an employee was deemed to have abandoned his employment after he failed to show up to work for a fortnight. Despite previous warnings

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No compensation for reasonable management action

Often an aggrieved or distressed employee will claim to have suffered psychological injury as a result of an employer addressing performance issues or concerns with the employee. However, these claims will fail where it can be shown that the employer’s action was reasonable in the circumstances.

For example, under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (Cth), referred to in the High Court case below, reasonable management action includes:

 

  • Performance appraisal
  • Counselling
  • Suspension or standing down of duties
  • Disciplinary action
  • Anything done in connection with the employee's failure to obtain a promotion or transfer.

This definition is consistent with the courts’ interpretation of other legislation including the Fair Work Act 2009 and state-based workers compensation legislation.

But the question of what is ‘reasonable’ and what is not is often unclear. Courts accept that management actions don’t need to be ‘perfect’, and  will take into account a number of considerations including the facts and circumstances that led to the need for action, how the action was carried out and the consequences

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Can you be sacked for your Facebook comments?

In today’s society, employees are connected in many ways. Not only do they work together but if they are friends on Facebook or connected via LinkedIn, then activities outside of business hours are also visible and can be shared. Therefore, the boundaries between work and private life have become increasingly blurred. Employees should keep in mind how their posts, comments, likes or tweets could affect the relationship they share with their co-workers and potentially negatively impact their employer’s reputation.

Just because an employee is at home when the conduct occurs doesn’t mean action cannot be taken. Claims of bullying and harassment via social media are on the rise and it’s not an issue the FWC takes lightly. In some situations, a person’s employment may be in jeopardy where there is a sufficient connection between alleged misconduct over social media and their employment.

In a recent case heard by the FWC[1], it was found that the decision to sack a worker for making disparaging comments about his supervisor on

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When swearing amounts to verbal abuse

Employees should choose their words carefully; whilst ‘colourful’ language may be tolerated at times, profane and insulting language towards another employee usually isn’t.

In two recent cases, the FWC has shed light on when an employer may be justified in sacking an employee for verbally abusing co-workers. However, employers are cautioned to consider all the factors surrounding the employee’s conduct when deciding whether instant dismissal is warranted.

In the first case[1], the dismissal of a sales consultant at a car dealership was upheld after he verbally abused the dealership’s stock controller over the phone. The employee and his wife (also an employee) were on a rostered day off when his wife received a call from the stock controller informing her about an inquiry from a contractor.

Despite the fact that the inquiry was quickly resolved, the employee called back shortly afterwards and began to abuse the stock controller using words such as “don’t f***ing call us ever” and “we are busy”. She tried to explain to the employee

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A tougher FWO to protect Australia’s vulnerable workers

The Turnbull Government is following through with its election promise to deliver greater protection to Australia’s vulnerable workers by strengthening the powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

In early 2017, new laws will be introduced that will enhance the FWO’s examination powers and expressly prohibit employers from providing false and misleading information to Fair Work Inspectors. The Government also plans to increase the penalties (up to ten times the current maximum) that apply to employers who underpay workers or who fail to keep sufficient employment records.  The intention is to deter businesses from engaging in practises that exploit vulnerable workers and to equal the playing field for compliant businesses doing the right thing.

In addition, a migrant workers taskforce has been established to improve employee protections for overseas workers. One of the key functions of the taskforce is to monitor 7-Eleven’s progress in rectifying their breaches which included the significant underpayment of wages, the manipulation of the payroll system and the doctoring of false employment records. The taskforce, chaired by

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A recent case heard before the FWC[1] should encourage employers providing internships to consider whether their programs are being carried out lawfully.

AMIG, A Chinese Media Company, received a huge $270,000 fine for failing to pay the basic minimum entitlements to two workers, including an intern who was required to complete 180 hours of unpaid work. During this time, the intern was expected to carry out productive work expected of a normal employee but without any pay cheque in return. It was found that AMIG mischaracterised the employment relationship and exploited the university student in order to avoid paying proper wages.

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The Australian Human Rights Commission has published an extensive report on work-related age and disability discrimination, acting as a reminder for employers to remain vigilant in the ways these workers are treated.

As the workforce ages and employees retire later in life, older Australians can feel ‘shut out’ of recruitment, feel that they are offered less professional development opportunities, or be the targets for redundancy during periods of organisational restructure. This can also apply to workers suffering from a disability, and the AHRC is keen to ensure that these groups of employees are not disadvantaged as a result of their age and/or disability.

In their report, the Commission makes recommendations for change 

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Clearly an employee who is intoxicated at work will suffer from impaired judgement and may seriously jeopardise their own and other employees’ safety. A common question we are asked is: When can I test employees for drug and alcohol use?

This area is a tricky one for employers as there are competing interests to consider: the employer’s obligation to provide a safe workplace, versus an employee’s right to privacy.

Procedural Fairness v Safe workplace

A recent FWC decision[1] highlights the complexity of this issue. An Ensign employee was summarily dismissed after failing a random drug test, testing positive for methamphetamine, THC and amphetamine. He claims he was wrongly terminated as he did not use drugs, the testing was unreliable and he was denied procedural fairness in the testing and disciplinary procedure.

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We have written previously about Cerin v ACI Operations Pty Ltd & Ors. The Federal Circuit Court has now determined the applicable penalties and ordered that the HR manager pay a penalty of $1020 for her role in the contravention. The employer, ACI, whose role was held to be more serious, was fined $20,400 in penalties. 

By way of background, the Applicant employee was dismissed and successfully brought a case against both the employer and the HR manager involved in his termination for breach of the notice provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (‘FWA’). The employee received pay in lieu of notice and for reasons that were not clear the amount he received was a couple of days short of what is required by the NES. The earlier decision held that both the HR manager and the employer were liable and this decision has now confirmed the penalties that apply to each.

Lessons for Employers

The issue was not the relatively small amount of the underpayment but rather

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A recent adverse action case* is a salient reminder that all workplace complaints need to be taken seriously and handled appropriately irrespective of the apparent formality of the complaint, who makes it or their motive(s) for making it.

The Facts

Just prior to the expiration of the employee’s three month probation period there was a confrontation between the employee and his supervisor which prompted the employee to make a complaint to HR. The following day in a probation appraisal meeting the supervisor raised performance concerns and offered to extend the probation period. The supervisor subsequently learned of the employee’s complaint, withdrew the offer to extend probation and recommended the employee’s dismissal ostensibly on the grounds that he had failed to meet the required performance standards.

The employee brought an adverse action claim alleging that he was terminated because he had complained about his supervisor and the workplace culture just prior to his termination.

The Decision

The matter was heard in the Federal Circuit Court. Judge Driver appeared to agree with

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It is important that employers understand when it is and is not okay to require employees to undertake a medical examination. This article looks at some recent cases and considers scenarios that would both allow for such a request and where it is not likely to be upheld as a lawful and reasonable management direction. 

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The National Employment Standards provide for redundancy pay, to eligible employees, based on their length of service. There is provision under the Fair Work Act for employers to make an application to have their obligation to make redundancy payments reduced or even waived completely. The two grounds for this application are that the employer has obtained other acceptable employment for the employee, or that they cannot pay the amount. 

A recent FWC decision considered the issue of what an employer needs to do to show that they ‘obtained’ the other acceptable employment. 

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