A national sporting team meets its match regarding an unfair dismissal
Taking disciplinary action towards an employee who has acted against the policies of your organisation is rarely easy – and it can be much more difficult when it plays out under media headlines.
Such is the case for a prominent rugby team that took disciplinary action against once of its star players, whose employment they terminated in June last year. He was fired after being involved in an incident that was deemed contrary to the club’s code of conduct, when photographs began circulating on social media that purported to show the player urinating in his own mouth. The player is now preparing to sue his former employer for almost $3 million for unfair dismissal.
For most organisations, when such a clear violation of company policy occurs and evidence is present, taking disciplinary action is the logical next step. However, it is not the fact that his employer made the decision to terminate his contract employment that the player is disputing, but rather, the way in which his firing was handled. The player claims he was “hard done by”, saying we wasn’t given an opportunity to put forward his side of the story before he was sacked.
He also asserts that he first discovered his employment was terminated through a co-worker. “I noticed a (fellow player), he pretty much went white and he goes, ‘Did you get sacked?’”. “I said ‘not that I know of’ and he threw me his phone. There was a message from the media manager at (the team) saying, ‘Don’t answer your phones or report on the club’s decision … ’.”
The player is now taking legal action against his former employers, which he says is driven by his desire to help other club employees. “I want it to be cleaned up because I think one day if it happens to a player again, the club might think back to what’s happened with me and this situation and it might help another player,” he says. His lawyer further commented, “If they (the club) had acted reasonably in the first instance we wouldn’t be here now. It would’ve been settled.”
There are many lessons that HR professionals can learn from this high profile unfair dismissal case, as it demonstrates that the way you handle a disciplinary issue can be just as important as the issue itself. It is crucial that HR leaders create and follow a clear process when taking disciplinary action against, or beginning termination procedures with, an employee.
By following the correct legislation and procedures, employers can minimise or alleviate many risks, including the financial risk of being accused of unfair dismissal down the track.
iHR Australia provides a number of practical advisory and support services for organisations and employers that may be short on resources, who are dealing with these types of potentially risky HR, workplace relations and industrial relations issues. These may include matters that can arise around conducting performance reviews, taking disciplinary action, delivering formal and informal warnings, and instigating termination procedures.