Dismissal of “square peg in round hole” a blunt instrument to manage workplace performance

Effective performance management is crucial to organisational success. This includes fostering leadership behaviours that create a high-performing culture as well as effectively managing under performance and non-performance in the workplace.

A recent case before the Fair Work Commission highlights the importance of employers effectively performance-managing employees.



In this case, the employee of a large Government entity was employed as a Senior Case Profiling Officer. In 2013, the role was made redundant and the employee was transferred to an audit role within the same organisation. The employee did not accept that he could or should be transferred into an audit role.

Some training was provided in relation to the new role, however, the employee considered himself to lack the skills necessary to enable him to perform the audit role.

Specifically, the employee’s previous role involved no interaction with clients or their agents and the new role involved significant client interaction. The employee was uncomfortable with the client-facing aspect of the new role.

The employee’s grievances were not resolved and in April 2015, the employee’s union the CPSU, lodged a dispute on the officer’s behalf under clause 145 of the agency’s enterprise agreement. This challenged the legitimacy of the employer’s decision to request that he work in a role outside his competence and training.

In an attempt to resolve the dispute, the employer directed the officer to participate in a work plan requiring him to perform client contact duties but the employee refused. The employee argued that this formed the basis of his workplace dispute.

The employee was dismissed in June 2015 based on the employee’s continued refusal to perform duties and comply with management directions.

The Commissioner noted that sacking the “square peg” for not fitting into the “round hole” was a “harsh” and “blunt means” of dealing with the non-performance of his duties. He described the sacking as “indefensible” due to the “live and ongoing dispute” over the department’s ability to direct him to perform the duties and his right to refuse to perform those duties after his union lodged a workplace dispute on his behalf.

The Fair Work Commission ordered the employer to reinstate the employee including orders maintaining continuity of service and lost pay.

The Commissioner noted that there was an unresolved issue as to the genuine capacity or ability of the employee to carry out the duties that he was required to perform and whether the training and support given to the employee was appropriate or adequate. This substantiated the employee’s claim that he did not receive adequate training.

Utilising performance management techniques rather than dismissing the employee may have been a more appropriate way to resolve this dispute.

Such costly and time-consuming legal disputes may be avoided if employers effectively performance-manage employees. Effective performance management in this situation could have included:

– Investing in the appropriate training to ensure the employee has the necessary skills to perform the role;
– Providing a mentor to assist the employee in transitioning to the new role;
– Undertaking a skills audit to determine if the employee would be more suited to a different role within the organisation and helping the employee explore other career opportunities; and
– Adjusting the KPI’s of the role to meet the employee’s skill set.

iHR believes prevention is the best cure and effective performance management is crucial to preventing workplace disputes. Ensuring that workplace leaders have the necessary skills to effectively manage under performance and non-performance is crucial. Contact iHR today to find out how the Managing Team Performance course can help your business build a winning workplace culture.

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