A small business owner was found to have unfairly dismissed an employee after telling her to “f-ck off”. The Fair Work Commission ruled that the female employee was unfairly dismissed from her bookkeeping position for a Queensland sports manufacturer, which she had held for four years.

 

The employee told the commission that the CEO told her to “f-ck off” and “just f-ck off and get out” after a dispute about which tasks she was supposed to complete. She left the office as she said she was frightened by his “aggressive manner”.

However, the CEO told the commission during the exchange that the employee had told him she had “had enough of this sh.t” and “I’m leaving”.

The employee said that the CEO left a phone message for her the following day asking her to come in to the office to “finalise things”, which she did. She returned her keys to the office and said she was told by the CEO he would finalise the matter the following week as his daughter was ill.

She also told the commission the CEO had said to her during a phone conversation he considered her termination to be by “mutual agreement”, a fact she disputed in a letter to him.

The Commission Deputy President ruled she did not resign her position, and was in fact dismissed, as “where an employer tells an employee to ‘f-ck off’ and then does not take any action to explain or withdraw that expression, it constitutes a direction to the employee to leave the workplace”, that is a constructive dismissal.

He further found that the dismissal was unfair because the CEO had not raised with her his reasons for terminating her employment, including concerns she displayed a belligerent and uncooperative attitude, she was undertaking bookkeeping work for another employer and was using the company’s resources to make unauthorised overseas phone calls.

The FWC ordered the CEO to compensate the employee with eight weeks pay, a total of $4,800, as she was not given “a fair go all round”.

Following the FWC decision, the CEO indicated that there “wasn’t much of a fair go for me” and that it would be more desirable to use machines rather than employ people in future.
“I don’t employ people in this country anymore, it’s just too hard,” said the CEO, who indicated that the experience nearly collapsed his business, causing financial damage as well as preventing his family from buying a new home.

The CEO said he would welcome a review of workplace laws by the government with open arms, saying there is a need for a “level playing field” between employees and employers.

“The workplace laws in this country are absolutely ridiculous. They are difficult to understand and it is really expensive for small businesses to deal with these situations. I know major companies who do not sack their staff because it is too difficult.”

The company distributes his Australian-made products to more than 50 countries and is choosing to contract work to overseas distributors rather than employ more people in Australia. He says he is also planning to increase the level of automation in his business to eliminate the need to hire more staff.

“It will save me money in the long run,” he says. “The software won’t steal from me.”

 

There have been a number of cases recently where employer and employees have sworn at each other, leading to dismissal. It is a fine judgement whether cases of workplace outbursts should be mediated or subject to formal workplace investigations and/or disciplinary procedures.

Workplace mediation is a dispute resolution technique used to assist parties to resolve issues and achieve an ongoing workable relationship. Mediation is a confidential and structured process in which an independent and impartial third party facilitates discussion between the various individuals involved. Mediation is more cost effective and a less time consuming process than formal proceedings and in many cases can resolve disputes before parties feel the need to consider litigation.

If an employer decides to take a more formal path, a properly conducted workplace investigation will ensure due process and be more defensible in any future court proceedings.

 

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