“You’re useless” – employee loses breach of contract claim despite abusive tirade from manager
A Victorian public servant who was verbally attacked by a manager, including being told he was a “piece of sh.t” and like “f.cking cancer”, has lost both a breach of contract claim and an adverse action claim against his employer in the Federal Court of Australia.
The public servant had worked for a Victorian Government authority since 2009 and was working as a compliance inspector when the altercation happened in March 2011.
He was called into the office of a senior manager to answer questions about his alleged disregard of, and poor communication with, his team leader. The team leader had complained about the behaviour of several team members, including the employee, since taking on the team leader role in 2010. The senior manager called the employee into the office to discuss her concerns in “a state of anger”.
The employee alleged that when he walked into the senior manager’s office, his manager had slammed the door on his foot, telling him to “Get in my f.cking office. Sit your f.cking arse down.”
“What followed could not be described as a conversation,” the judge told the court. “It was almost completely one-sided. The applicant was given little or no opportunity to say anything.”
The employee faced an expletive-riddled attack from the senior manager in which he allegedly said, “I will take you down. I’ve dealt with bigger fish than you. No one is going to believe a piece of sh.t like you.”
He continued, “You’re useless. You’re f.cking toxic. You’re f.king cancer”.
The court heard the employee was given no opportunity to respond, and after the attack he did not return to work, instead going on sick leave and then worker’s compensation. In a claim for damages for breach of contract, the employee argued that the authority had an obligation to treat him in good faith, which extended to not being verbally abused.
But the court found there was no implied term of good faith in employment contracts and ruled the senior manager had not acted in bad faith towards the employee.
“There are several strong criticisms which might be directed to (the senior manager) for the way he treated the applicant, but acting in bad faith is not one of them,” the judge stated.
The adverse action claim also failed because a workplace right was not breached – his manager was simply being rude. A bullying claim was not tested. The Department said that, although the allegations were unproven, it has “zero tolerance” for workplace bullying.
iHR believes it is preferable to seek mediation before a situation gets to the stage of shouting, abuse and court appearances, due to the time and monetary cost this involves. Mediation is a dispute resolution technique used to assist parties in resolving issues and achieving 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 a more cost effective and a less time consuming process than formal proceedings, in many cases resolving disputes before parties feel the need to consider litigation.