Aggro manager uses LinkedIn as a tool of abuse – the importance of selecting employees who are the “right fit”

The Fair Work Commission has refused to reverse the dismissal of an OHS manager who used his employment-related LinkedIn account to send abusive personal emails, directed “expletive rich” language at his manager and declined to participate in a performance plan.

 The FWC was told that partway through his 11 months of employment, the environment, safety and quality manager began bringing his laptop into the office to work on his divorce case and became increasingly distracted by personal issues.

Just weeks after counselling the ESQ manager about his performance and attendance, the employer said it received a complaint from someone, “who may have been his ex-partner”, who received threatening, aggressive and abusive emails sent from his LinkedIn account.

The LinkedIn emails, which the FWC chose not to publish in its judgment because they were “particularly aggressive and abusive”, specified the employee’s position title and employer.

The recipient of the emails complained to the company’s head office, which prompted a company manager to tell the employee that his conduct of drawing the employer’s business into personal emails had to cease immediately.

His colleagues and team members also raised concerns about his frequent absences, irregular working hours and failure, as a member of the leadership team, to lead by example.

The company’s operations and maintenance manager kept him informed about the company’s expectations and sought to place him on a performance plan, but the ESQ manager refused to participate and used foul language.  The FWC was told that the employee gave an “expletive rich response” to the manager’s attempt to manage him through a performance plan, including characterising the manager as “a bastard”.

He also insisted there was no issue with the quality of his work and lodged a bullying complaint.  An independent organisation hired to conduct an investigation found there was no evidence of bullying but that the ESQ manager could himself be culpable of harassment and intimidation.

The transport company dismissed the employee via a letter, which included allegations of his refusal to report for duty, failure to perform normal duties and “a total lack of respect and use of inappropriate language”.

The FWC found the employer’s procedural fairness shortcomings did not bear greatly on the result, stating that the employer’s concerns “should hardly have come as a surprise” given previous lengthy and involved interactions.

The Commissioner said the manager was “profoundly naïve” to use his employer’s name and his position title in a “particularly offensive” email from his LinkedIn account and showed no remorse, claiming it was “no cause for concern”, because it was a private email from a private account.

But rather than needing to determine the employee’s guilt for misconduct and performance issues, it was “more a case about the appropriate conduct expected of a senior manager when faced with various workplace behavioural issues”.

The employee had taken it upon himself to “dictate the terms on which he would perform his work” and refused all reasonable and lawful requests to participate in any performance management or coaching, the Commissioner said.

“His fundamental and proven failing was in his inability — in a small work group — to conduct himself in a cooperative and civil way, and exhibit the desired suite of managerial traits.”

A senior member of the Fair Work Commission recently told employers they need strong workplace conduct policies and grievance procedures, and should select line managers with good interpersonal skills, to help them prevent bullying claims.  Senior Deputy President Jonathan Hamberger noted that the best approach to bullying was to prevent it from happening in the first place, or at least “nip it in the bud”.

“In my experience there are some people who — no matter how much you train them — are just incapable of treating people in the right way.   What this suggests is that organisations who genuinely wish to minimise the risks associated with workplace bullying should give priority to interpersonal skills when deciding who to appoint to managerial positions.”

iHR agrees that cultural fit is sometimes more important than technical skill when choosing managers and employees.  iHR’s Selection and Interviewing Skills Training is ideal for line managers and those new to a recruitment role, and will help participants develop their interviewing skills to select the right person.


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